Inside the mind of a Pilot (The Lighter Side of Flying)
As you read these articles every month,
you may notice that my e-mail address is always included
at the bottom of the page. There’s a reason for that,
and it’s simply because somehow the editor got it on a
template, and it’s there forever. The only way I could
get it off, is to change to another address. Although
technically, that wouldn’t make it go away from the page
you’re reading, but all the e-mails would be directed
somewhere else, away from my computer.
That result would be good and bad. The
bad part is that I’d not get to read all the good
comments that arrive. The good part would be I’d not
have to deal with some of the questions readers send.
Here’s one of those questions, and is one
that I feel deserves some response. A reader in
Newfoundland (I’ll call him Albert) asks: “What does a
pilot think about as he’s flying an airplane?”
Initially, that struck me as a
questionable question. There’s a shorter word for that,
but it may be an insult to Albert. His e-mail had two
separate questions and was more like: “I’m sick of my
dead-end job in the fish plant, and wondered what it
would take to get a job like being a pilot, where you
have an opportunity to make a difference, even though
you never actually do”.
So, ignoring the first comment, I thought
I’d deal with the second part …. “what do pilots think
about?” in this article. Quite frankly, it’s sometimes
difficult to come up with a topic to write a full
article about, so this is a good opportunity to discuss
something that is probably interesting to one reader
From personal experience, I can tell you
Albert, that pilots don’t think. They react, like
well-oiled machines. The time for thinking isn’t while
we’re flying … it’s at ground school. That’s where the
learning and figuring out all this flying stuff goes
on. You shouldn’t be inside an airplane cockpit until
you’ve done all that. Then, when emergencies arise,
you’ll be confident in knowing you won’t have to think.
Your arms and legs will know what to do.
But why do airplanes sometimes crash, you
might ask. If the well-oiled machine still has some oil
in it, there’s no reason for accidents. Well, you have
a good point there, if you’re asking that particular
question. I’m able to address things that might be on
your mind such as these questions, because I have the
luxury of doing it right here in my home office, which
is an area I figure for tax purposes is about 90% of the
size of my home. I’m not writing this inside the
cockpit, where I’d have to think.
One reason for crashes is we, the older
pilots, forget so much. All that stuff in ground school
was umpteen years ago. We can’t be expected to remember
it all when there are so many other distractions in
life. At this stage for instance, I dread for weeks the
scary rubber glove my doctor is going to put on when I
walk in his office for my physical. When I leave, I
usually have a prescription along with a recommendation
for a diet of wood chips and bananas. And it hurts to
walk for a while.
Back to the point of this article, what
do pilots think about. Well, when we’re in the cruise
segment of our flight, it can get boring. I’ve noticed
that even the oil tends to thicken at bit. Once when I
observed the shadow of our airplane was following a
highway, I thought about how much fun it would be to
scare the pants off some of the drivers down there. I
maneuvered the plane so that our shadow was running
perfectly down that road, quickly passing all the
vehicles going in the same direction. It was fun to
think how startled the drivers would be, thinking a
plane was about to crash right on top of their car.
Many pilots think about their investments
while they’re up there. And if you want my advice,
don’t take financial advice from pilots, or doctors.
One group has their heads in the clouds, the other has a
finger …. you know where it’s up! But seriously, on
this topic, pilots tend to be the exception to the rule
of the “get-rich-buying-stocks fraternity”, whose basics
include buy low-sell high. Some of us are flying at the
Some pilots search for real estate when
they fly. Nobody else gets to survey the mountain-top
locations, many with tiny lakes ideally suited for a
STOL float plane. The trouble is, most pilots will
never own their own STOL float plane. So, there’s a lot
of time wasted doing all that thinking, when they really
should be oiling their machine.
One pilot I knew personally often thought
about landing in some of the small fields he flew over,
just to see if he could do it. Once he actually did.
It was really short, and a whole lot softer than it
looked from the air. He got in there all right, but
couldn’t get out. As far as I know the plane is still
sitting in that tiny clearing. He was thinking, but
shouldn’t have been.
When it’s a really slow day in the
cockpit, pilots sometimes think of trivial things.
They’ve been known to think of their neighbors’
attractive wives, and then remember when they got
invited for dinner how the pot luck they brought over
got fed to the dog. So it’s with mixed feelings that
some flights slip by.
I hope that Albert reads this, and gets a general idea of
what’s in a pilot’s thoughts as he’s flying. I’ve
probably missed many of them, but I will end by
comparing flying to golfing, which many pilots are known
to be the masters of. Like an airplane, a golf club is
made up of advanced space-age material, carefully
engineered and crafted to very fine tolerances. But
whether he’s swinging the club or advancing the
throttles, the moment that ball or the airplane leaves
the ground, the pilot has no idea where it’s going to