In many ways, it would have been easier if I had just gotten a phone call that said, “Get on the next plane you can.” Then I would have been forgiven for simply casting aside most of my normal daily responsibilities and simply reacting. I might even have been expected to do that. Don’t think, just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
But in being asked to be there in a week and stay for an uncertain duration, my brain wants to somehow take that as a reprieve, a chance to retain some modicum of control. If I do this and that, then I can minimize the impact on my absence from the hangar for a couple of weeks. If I can get A, B, and C done, then I can minimize some of the impact at home on things I normally keep up on. Of course, with that “reprieve,” I can take on numerous additional tasks to prepare for the trip and be able to help more when I get there.
I can plan. I can make checklists and double check them. I can leave little yellow sticky notes all over the place. I can fool myself into believing that I’m on top of the situation.
Um, yeah, about that…
Again, in thinking about this as I write, letting my brain roam freely as my fingers roam across the keyboard, I realize that there are parallels in flight training. (I find that a lot if I go looking for it, and since flight training is a really good thing and an excellent model for situational awareness, multitasking, and planning, I like to think those skills can carry back over to daily life.)
When operating normally, the number one rule is to stay ahead of the plane. Wherever possible, anticipate what’s coming up next and be ready for it.
Travelling cross country? Know in advance during your planning phase what your route is, and where there are alternative places to land along the way if you get into trouble. If everything’s fine, know in advance where and when you need to throttle back and start descending. Have a list of the anticipated radio frequencies that you’re going to switch between as you travel, and as soon as you sign off from #1 and start talking to #2, load the expected frequency for #3 into the radio – as soon as you switch from #2 to #3, load #4, and so on. Know what your landmarks are or navigation points and know when to expect them.
Stay ahead of the plane.
But when things go catastrophically wrong, i.e., the engine quits or your fuel tanks are empty or you hit a bird or you’re getting ice on the wings… Then the number one rule changes.
Fly the plane!
You may want to find a way to get down and land ASAP. You may want to call for help. You may want to try to restart the engine or switch fuel tanks or something else. But while you’re busy doing that, you can lose control of the plane and turn a bad situation into a fatal one.
Don’t worry about anything else until you’re following rule #1 – fly the plane!
That’s the equivalent of being told to get on the next plane. You don’t have to worry about anything else – just fly the plane. Just react. Just keep moving.
But now, it’s like bad weather moving in when you’re flying. Those accidents don’t start off catastrophic, but they end up that way because they’re the result of a string of little errors that add up. Break the chain and the accident’s avoided.
Weather’s looking spotty? Divert to one of those alternatives you planned for. They’re looking spotty as well? Turn around and go back. But you need to get there and you’re pretty sure you’ll be OK? Famous last words. Now you’re in conditions you’re totally not prepared for but you’re going to press on anyway? Fine, but what happens when you get off course and start to run low on fuel? Worrying about the course and navigation and fuel and you don’t notice the ice on the wings, or the oil temperature rising? It’s okay, I’m in control, there are just a few issues to deal with.
One little thing at a time that add up, none of them critical by themselves, but in a string they’re a disaster.
So now I think that I’m maintaining some control by working like a demon to get days and days and weeks of stuff done in just four or five days. I won’t miss anything.
But if I do miss anything, I’ll have the tools I’ll need to handle them on the fly. I can do that because I’m connected via phone and computer and internet and finances and everything can be taken care of that way.
But if it turns out that small towns in Vermont don’t have 4G cell service and I find out that I won’t have internet access where I’m staying, well, that’s still okay because…
And if I find that something else is an issue then I’ve got a contingency plan, except that maybe there’s a problem there…
Somehow I’ll figure something out and just deal with it, which is great until…
Just. Fly. The. Plane.
Important to remember that.