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Get Your Head in the Game. by Linda "Slim" Torrens

posted Jul 11, 2019, 10:35 AM by Ashley and Maria Neboschick


Have you ever started the engine only to realize the chocks are still in?  Yep, I’ve checked that box.  Ever tried to start the engine with the towbar still attached? Check. Ever taken off only to have the door pop open due to improper latching or inadequate pax brief? Check and check. For 20 years, my husband’s mantra as he left to go fly was always, “headset helmet pubs and gloves, flashlight wallet I’ve got all of it…” because at one time or another, he’d left for a trip and forgotten one of those items. For most pilots, the mental checking off starts from the time they leave the house.  Approaching the airplane, the pilot looks at the overall picture, takes in the windsock and casually observes other traffic. The pilot is collecting data. The walkaround is completed, usually in the same exact manner. The bags are loaded, weight and balance completed, etc… all done usually in the same manner – by rote habit and by practice. 

When routines are broken, things sometimes go wrong.  I had to shut down the engine and crawl over my mother-in-law to remove my Mooney chocks. My homemade towbar removed itself from the airplane after the big spinny thing knocked it out of the way. Both embarrassing incidents, and both the result of something breaking the habit patterns.  I’d like to blame my errors on other people – the student asking an inappropriate question at the wrong time or another pilot trying to “help” me with towing -- but ultimately, as you know, it’s the pilot-in-command who takes full responsibility for the safety of flight.


In the next few days, our aircraft habit patterns will be tested.  Unless you are a formation regular, things are going to be different as you head into and out of Madison.  The horn will blow – and it will be time to turn the ignition key and everyone will know if you delay engine start. Hopefully, everything you’ve meant to do by engine start time has been safely completed. Did you check the fuel? latch the baggage door? tighten that little oil knobby? And, ah, where did you set that FAA notam and the GAC parking sign?

On this mission, you’ll want to be ahead of the aircraft at all times. That means, be at the briefing early and ready to actively listen. Anticipate a wait for the bus, a line at the bathroom and at the FBO. Have fuel paid for, preflight completed, passengers briefed, and cockpit nest built well before engine start time. No rushing around trying to catch up.   


A great way to alleviate the stress upon your habit patterns is through the accumulation of knowledge…which, thankfully, is easily done.  But it needs to be done now – this week, while sitting at home and relaxed.  At pilot training, we called it chair flying. You think through the timeline and visualize how you’re going to accomplish every bit of your part of the mission.  You’ll arrive at Madison having read the Caravan formation guide, you’ll have looked at Sled’s Madison brief several times, and you’ll know what’s going to happen and when to expect it.  You’ve thought through setting up the GPS, ADSB and radios, know where you’re going load stuff, and what you’re going to do if something outside the norm happens. If you have to abort, you’ll instinctively remember to call the abort so followers will know.  If you need to break out, you lose sight of lead, or you need to call traffic, you’ll know what to say on the radio and what to do with your aircraft, because you’ve thought through these scenarios.  

There will be a lot of pressure at Madison to do things on time and correctly, and errors (and there will be errors!) will be noted in the debrief as a learning tool. Try not to make any errors, but of course, if you do, fess up, help others to learn from mistakes, and enjoy the short ride and great coming days at Oshkosh as part of the best mass arrival group there is!