Editor’s Briefing: Control Freaking

Editor’s Briefing: Control Freaking

Ever wonder why we have that uneasy feeling in the pit of our viscera just before we launch on a big trip? Most likely, we are tied up in knots because we’re not in total control.

Pilots are, by nature, control freaks. The very definition of Pilot In Command reeks of control. We must stay in control of the flight situation throughout our aeronautical excursions, to guard against the dreaded LOC-I (loss of control, inflight) and be ready to regain control if faced with an upset. It’s just the way we’re trained, and it’s the way we are.

But, with all the variables to manage in trip planning—passenger prodding, weather checking, fueling and preflighting—there’s a high likelihood that something will go awry. We just can’t control all aspects of the schedule, weather, or even the vagaries of ATC. Which leaves us on the edge of concern, continually.

In nearly 60 years of observation, I’ve seen a lot of flights come and go, sometimes routinely, sometimes not as planned, and sometimes not at all. One thing’s for sure; there will be challenges to be dealt with. That’s what pilots are for. Making decisions, to keep things under control, is the only reason we’re in the aircraft. If flying was easy, says one of my old instructors, everybody would want to do it.

We must, then, accept the responsibility, the control freaking, that comes with being PIC. To gain control, we must assess the situation, look at the elements over which we do have some measure of control, decide on the best course of action, and deal with the execution of that course. There is always some choice, in every piloting action. We may not have control of all the inputs, but we do have control over the outcome.

How do you prevent the agonizing of pre-trip jitters? Accept that some things are beyond your control; the sun will go down, the last passenger will be late and, somewhere along the route, weather will be a factor. Take care of the things you can control, like the preflight checks, adding fuel or pulling the aircraft out onto the ramp. Once you’ve done that, adopt the realistic view that there’s nothing more you can do. Wait until you can do some of that piloting stuff.

A fatalistic attitude has no place in acting as PIC, of course. Plowing into thunderstorms or cruising past fuel stops, just because the flight plan calls for continuing, is not something to be done just because you’ve made a decision to take off. Stay fluid, to stay in control; flying is a dynamic process.

The inability to control every piece of the puzzle extends to ownership as well. I get very nervous when I have an airplane in the shop for an inspection. One never knows what will be found and how it will affect the budget. So, we hope for the best and prepare for the worst, perhaps with a prepaid maintenance plan. A friend of mine just called with the sad news that his twin had been found with cracks in a tailcone bulkhead at annual time; repairs will be expensive, and lengthy. He is understandably distraught, but time has caught up with him. That’s what inspections are for, I commiserated.

Stay tense.

LeRoy Cook

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