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Making Mistakes in Flight

Mistakes ImageSome of you may know (or maybe not), that my "day job" is as a corporate trainer.  I love training, and I love flying, and that's why I enjoy spending my time flight instructing so much... I get to put two of my deepest passions together!

As a corporate trainer (and a nerd about education & learning in general), I know the difference real training (and education) can make - in the path of a company, or in the life of an individual - whether you are an adult learning new skills or improving on those you already have, or a child learning the basic three Rs (do those even still apply?), true learning and knowledge is incredibly important and can be life-changing!

But one of the problems in training, learning, and education, is that people learn from a young age that making mistakes is bad.  That you are no good if you can't do something perfectly, even if you've never done it before!  We are, I think, hardest on ourselves in this matter - how many times have you said to yourself, "I suck at this!  I don't know why I bother even trying!"  I know I have said this to myself many times (usually in the context of fixing some issue with our turn-of-the-century house).

But what do we usually learn the most from? Our mistakes!

As much as WANT to avoid making mistakes, we will do so.  And if we accept that it will happen and learn from those mistakes, we will all be better pilots (and people) in the long run.  Certainly, we should do our best to avoid mistakes, with the understanding that, whether from a lack of knowledge (we don't always know what we don't know), or from stress or fatigue or being in a hurry, we WILL make them.  And learning from our mistakes is really just a matter of changing our attitude toward mistakes themselves.

As a flight instructor, I find it useful to talk about mistakes that I have made in the past.  Flight students have a tendency to look at their flight instructor(s) as "perfect beings" - at least while in the cockpit.  But I think it is good for them to know that you can make a mistake while flying and not - at worst - die, or even have to worry about air traffic control calling you to the carpet or having the FAA waiting on the ramp when you land.

I once made the mistake of flying a long distance, to an unfamiliar airport, when I was not flying very much, making me not only barely current, but also not terribly proficient.  Everything actually went fairly well with that flight, but when tower told me to "enter right traffic" for the runway, I flew to the right of the runway, entering left traffic.  I was also following another plane on downwind, and I thought to myself "why is that guy left traffic if I was told right traffic?" I had him in sight, but it never occurred to me that *I* was the pilot making the mistake, until ATC asked me where I was and advised that I was LEFT traffic, not right (for those of you who are lost at this point, "right traffic" means that you are making right-hand turns in the traffic pattern, and "left traffic" means left-hand turns).  Left traffic is standard, so I believe that since I was not flying as much, I reverted back to my very basic training and entered a standard pattern - inspite of the fact that I had to fly PAST the airport to get there, which doesn't make much sense.

Anyway - ATC just had me continue left traffic and land, but, needless to say, it was embarrassing.  But I learned several things from that flight:

  • Don't take on a long cross-country if you aren't flying much otherwise and may not be proficient.
  • Revisit the basics on a regular basis, including reading through the AIM at least one per year (you *DO* buy a new FAR/AIM every year, don't you?)
  • Don't believe you are such a good pilot that you can't make mistakes yourself (if I had recognized that the plane ahead of me was RIGHT (meaning both correct, and RIGHT TRAFFIC), I might have avoided the situation)
  • Mistakes aren't as scary as they often seem

The reason I was taking this trip was that a good friend was having a landmark birthday, and I wanted to be there for his party.  The birthday boy is an accomplished pilot himself, and when I related the story to him, he laughed and started into some of the stories of mistakes HE had made... reminding me that no successful pilot (or successful PERSON) could get where they are without making some mistakes.

And now I'm reminding YOU.


Andrew Hartley is a Certificated Flight Instructor in Columbus, Ohio.

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