Safety Is Your Choice!

Published in Midwest Flyer – Aug/Sept 2016 issue

Have you ever watched the start of a summer rain shower? First there are one or two drops, then one or two more, and so on. As they hit the pavement, they make clearly defined, individual spots. And as the drops continue to fall, the individual spots on the ground begin to disappear as the tiny drops add up to a saturated wet area. The point is that lots of little drops can add up to a significant flood. We’ll come back to this paragraph in a few minutes.

Everyone has heard the phrase “don’t sweat the small stuff!” But shouldn’t it be phrased “sweat the small stuff”?  Think about it. If you are learning to fly, drive, ski, cook, or any worthwhile endeavor, sweating the small stuff can be the determining factor in whether or not you excel at that effort, or you become a hazard to yourself and others.

If a cook, for example, doesn’t pay attention to the right amount of specific spices for a special dish, too much or too little could literally ruin that dish.

If a driver doesn’t learn at the outset, the proper use of turn signals for instance, he or she will quickly become a danger to other drivers. They may actually cause accidents they aren’t even aware of during the course of their lives. But would you want to be in fast moving traffic when some individual simply turns in front of you without even attempting to use their signal? Sweat the small stuff!

Now imagine the same “don’t sweat the small stuff” attitude in a doctor or a pilot. Would you want that doctor operating on you? Think about this… When finished with an operation, the doctor and his surgical team count up the forceps and other medical tools they used on you, but they come up short, and the doctor says casually, “Don’t sweat the small stuff…you probably just miscounted. The patient is fine. Let’s go home now. It has been a long day.”  Do you still want that doctor working on you? Sweat the small stuff!

If a pilot in his/her earliest training begins to make some consistent but small errors, an instructor might be inclined to say little or nothing…after all, they are small things and the pilot IS a student. Also flying is a complex activity. But what if these small things continue and the student pilot goes on to earn a private pilot certificate? One day, the small things that were overlooked or disregarded, could add up to be a significant part of a serious event that might be tragic in its result. Do you remember the opening paragraph example about the raindrops? Sweat the small stuff.

Getting The Big Picture

Take a minute to think about the U.S. military precision flight demo teams like the Air Force Thunderbirds, or the Navy Blue Angels. They are awesome in everything they do. They are the quintessential pilot role models who can excite people to learn to fly simply by their presence.

We watch these aviators with great respect and awe, but rarely do we ever think about the many small, seemingly insignificant details they had to master to get to be where they are today! With that in mind, ask yourself these questions: Aren’t these pilots just inherently great aviators? Aren’t they the best of the best? Isn’t flying all they do? They don’t have to sweat the small stuff, do they?

The quick answers are, no; yes; no; and yes. These pilots are certainly chosen from a group of highly skilled and very competitive candidates who are screened, tested, and challenged until the group can be narrowed down to the best of the best. That doesn’t mean the selected pilots are inherently the best, but in all fairness, a few may well be inherently natural flyers.

As every military pilot is trained, they constantly work to fine tune and hone their flying skills. They look for the little things they might forget, or in a rush, might overlook, and then correct that potential situation. They practice, practice, and practice. They challenge themselves, and are constantly challenged on the ground before they fly, and in the air by the type of flying they do. There is essentially no room for error.

All of the precision team pilots have one or more additional jobs when on the ground, thus flying is not all they do. Their responsibilities are wide-ranging, as are their skills and talents. But keep in mind they started out in the same type of aircraft flown by nearly every GA pilot. They learned to be the best of the best and they do sweat the small stuff.

They “sweat the small stuff” because like raindrops, what may seem to be something small and insignificant one moment, may turn out to be the very thing that becomes a serious problem the next moment. Bear in mind, most accidents are rarely caused by one single mistake or event, but rather by a series of mistakes or events (a chain of causation) that leads up to an incident or accident that could change your flying career forever.

If you don’t pay attention to details now; if you don’t make it a part of your flying life to consistently learn, practice, and fine-tune your flying skills, will you be ready for a problem in flight that may come about because of several small things that were forgotten, overlooked, or ignored?

Are you getting the big picture now? You are responsible for the decisions you make. When you are flying you need to be consistently alert, aware, and attentive to details. So sweating the small stuff is quite simply good flight discipline, as well as good judgement when in the air, or on the ground. If you truly have a passion for some activity, then mastering the details of that activity, or of anything you plan to do, will help ensure that you will be safe, successful, and prepared. But, making that decision to master the details – to sweat the small stuff – is up to you!

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