A Pilot's Perspective.

By Barry Meek.

 March 2011

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 (Albert).               

 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 low point.               

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 go. 

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