Editor’s Briefing: Satisfaction… Assured

Editor’s Briefing: Satisfaction… Assured

Satisfactory piloting performance is a moving target; when I fly for proficiency, either on a positioning leg or a purposeful hop under supervision, I try to get as close as I can to a flawless performance. I’ve yet to get there, but if I close the gap slightly, I get to reset my parameter of satisfaction.

He who stops getting better, stops being good. And the way you get better is to strive for perfection. If the allowable altitude tolerance is +50/-0, I want the altimeter to freeze at 50 feet above the target. That way, I have the cushion I need for foibles but I also have a precise number for evaluation. Anal, perhaps, but it’s a way to challenge myself.

The other day, I needed to shoot a few approaches, so I filed for the DME arc transition and, naturally, the DME refused to lock on at first. With a GPS backup, it was possible to work around the balky readout, but I missed the extra challenge of making the mileage number stay the same as we maneuvered around the arc. When we got a DME lock part-way through the approach, I felt like asking for a restart, but I went to work on the next challenge, which was more than enough.

Why bother? Because, if you don’t seek the best-possible outcome, you will be satisfied with ever-less exactness. I’ve noted this tendency in my off-moments, when I was beaten down by a full day of flying halfway across the country or making my first approach in a new (to me) cockpit. It’s easy to open up the window of tolerance, satisfied with a safe arrival, even though you know you could have done better. “All right for now,” I tell myself, “but we’ve got to work on that.”

Does this propensity for self-flagellation lead to frustration? It can, but we have to accept the likelihood of imperfection, as a normal consequence of human frailty. My landing touchdowns, ever the arbiter of my skill level, are humbling about two times out of three. I know how to paint the tires onto the pavement, straddling the centerline, but I’ll allow a bit of drift or residual sink rate to intervene and there will be that jar in my seat that I don’t want. I’m not going to quit trying, however.

Therefore, we want to take satisfaction in the achieving of small triumphs, on our way to the pinnacle of perfection. In that way, we avoid the frustration of always being off the mark. Maybe I didn’t nail that landing the way I wanted, but I flew the bug speed on the money. If we make the crossing altitude, our descent calculation was obviously working and we’ve honed a skill that will help us in another piloting task. No achievement stands alone; it is the sum of several parts, working in concert and practiced toward perfection.

For now, I’ll be content to achieve satisfaction, and keep working.

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