Dinner Conversations About Fear

We were sitting with friends at a great restaurant on the beach. The temperature was just right, the humidity relatively low, and the wind was light, but refreshing. It was a great evening and since we were aviators, our conversation turned to flying. Then it took a different twist – to survival.

I was talking about the training I had in the Navy and how I still use it today all these years later. My friend’s wife asked how and I explained that every time I book a flight and sit in seat 12A, I have my route figured out to the nearest exit before I sit down.

Then we talked about survival training itself and my friend made the comment about the purpose behind the training is learning to control the fear. Which, of course, was dead on.

As aviators, we can memorize the procedures. Engine failure – 1) Pitch to best glide speed. 2) Pick a place to land. 3) Try to restart. 4) If it starts, direct to nearest runway. 5) If it does not restart, land. It really is that simple.

We can practice this procedure over and again, getting better with each iteration of the drill. We can become comfortable, thus ensuring some modicum of success if ever faced with the situation. We can depend on our abilities to fly the airplane successfully to the off airport landing.

What we cannot depend on is how our fear will influence the outcome of the event. Hence, the need to train in controlling our fears.

Some pilots have been very fortunate in their flying careers. They have never had to face a situation more threatening than marginal VFR and making the decision to fly. They have never faced the circumstance of a sputtering or suddenly silent engine. In my case, I went nine years and 2300 hours before my first test (See Joe’s Luck.) And notice how I say, my first test. Other tests followed in my career. Each gave me valuable insight that allowed me to pass on a lot of information about emergencies to my students.

One of the most important things I can pass on to less experienced pilots is the importance of being ready. And no, I am no talking about memorizing the immediate-action emergency checklists. Flight instructors and experienced pilots assume that as a young pilot, you have already prepared this and have it in place. No, what I am referring to with the phrase, be ready, is the idea of controlling your fear – which begins with being rested, nourished, and hydrated (for more, read Sleep, Food, Water, and Performance).

If you are ready, the next thing you have to face is controlling the fear. This starts with the acceptance the emergency is happening to you, right now, and you have to take action. So many aviators waste a lot of time sitting in the left seat with their lower jaw resting in their lap while trying to form the words, “This can’t be happening to me!”

Yes, it is happening to you!

Get over it, accept it, fix it.

The sooner you can move past this, the quicker you can get back to living your life. Notice how I say, “Get back to living your life.”

If you can control your fear, you will be able to think more clearly during the emergency. This will allow you to do what you have to do to fix it.

If you cannot control your fear, your mind is going to be pinging off the insides of your cranium. And while your beliefs and fears are ricocheting around your skull, you will not be able to grasp the thoughts and concepts you need to handle the emergency – no matter how well you have memorized the checklist.

-30-

©2012 J. Clark

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2 Responses to Dinner Conversations About Fear

  1. Pingback: Engine Failures Are Louder at Night | joeclarksblog.com

  2. Pingback: Surviving an Airliner Crash | joeclarksblog.com

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