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Tag: Psychology

Dealing with pre-departure delays and jitters: What is your intuition trying to tell you?

As pilots we often rely on our technical knowledge, flight training, and experience to make critical decisions in the air and on the ground. We use this knowledge to decide if we will continue a flight when something fails, to determine if weather will affect us, how our aircraft will perform given the maintenance it has received and what our course of action will be when making go/no-go decisions.

I believe we have another decision-making tool available to us as pilots—our intuition. Call it what you will: gut instinct, a hunch, your sixth sense. Psychology Today refers to intuition as the brain on autopilot—I think of it as an inner voice that always has our back. Regretfully, no training program I’m aware of has ever told us to rely on our intuition, and yet, it offers information that could save our lives in critical decision-making moments.

Case in point: As my departure date for my polar circumnavigation looms ever closer, my airplane, Citizen of the World, has started throwing me some major curves and fits. It has been sending me some very clear messages that leave me feeling a bit uneasy in my stomach. The messages I’m receiving are clear: The airplane is not ready for departure. In fact, it’s like it won’t let me go even though my get-there-itis is pushing me to keep moving.

A lot of technology and new equipment have come together in Citizen of the World in a very short period of time including a new Avidyne Avionics panel, Max Viz infrared sensor, refurbished Honeywell turbine engines, MT propellers, and a Peter Schiff environmental system to name a few. Being an optimist and thinking that this is not my first rodeo (see my equatorial circumnavigation), I assumed the trip would roll out on time and smoothly like back in 2015. Nothing could be further from the truth. This trip is an entirely different animal than an equatorial circumnavigation and much more complex: vastly greater distances, the worst weather on the planet, extreme cold, lack of places to land, pilot fatigue issues, challenging navigation, and a more complicated/modified airplane.

To add insult to injury, for some reason the human factor is also coming into play like it never has before. It’s making my earlier trip complete with engine out at 14,000 feet over the Strait of Malacca feel like a cakewalk (see my book Zen Pilot: Flight of Passion and the Journey Within). Disagreements between contractors, health issues of key players, family issues for supporters, and my own physical challenge of dislocating a shoulder have had me on high alert. Not a great way to start a long-distance solo flight.

As my initial departure date neared, I was starting to lose sleep over these issues and my intuition kept waking me in the middle of the night saying, “Not yet! The plane needs to stabilize and needs more testing.”

The problem is, of course, that all these things result in delays for every scheduled installation or inspection, since the modifications must happen sequentially. For example, the environmental system must be installed and working reliably before the six ferry tanks are installed, which limit access to the environmental system once the tanks are installed.  All of these delays add stress to meeting my departure date.

These issues I have listed do not even account for the random events that plague aviation and life. The things we cannot predict or plan for can have a tremendous impact on us, and even greater consequences when we aren’t paying attention to our intuition or worse, choosing to ignore it. By listening to our intuition and acting on it immediately we clear the air for better solutions to rise up and ease the growing stress that is clogging our mental and emotional engines.

While flying the airplane from Tennessee to New Mexico en route to Gemini Air Group for a third look at the airplane by some very talented mechanics, I noticed the entire right side of the pilot window had cracked and delaminated. This was slightly unnerving given that I was flying 30,000 feet above ground, and that the airplane was pressurized to 6.4 psi cabin differential. I couldn’t help but think that the windshield could collapse in on me at just over 302 knots or 347.3 mph, the speed at which I was currently flying. As I watched the cracking spread to the top of the window, it was as if the Universe was talking to me and stopping me in my tracks. Coincidentally  I was close to my next fuel stop and Gemini Air Group. My intuition was again telling me, “Not ready, you have more work to do on this plane.”

Looking into replacing the window, I was told by one mechanic, “You can fly with it ‘as is,’ it just won’t look pretty.” Aesthetics and get-there-itis aside, my gut was telling me this wasn’t just a delay issue, it was also a financial, and even more important, a safety issue. Heated aircraft windows are made in small quantities and are enormously expensive, slow to manufacture and install, as well as critical for flying at the flight levels I will be flying.

In addition to the windshield delaminating, we became aware that the right engine had been refurbished using bearings for the torque sensor transducer that were potentially defective and needed to be replaced, requiring the prop to be removed and the intake disassembled. Testing the engine would require inflight investigation and shutting the airplane down in flight. Everything continued to point to a delay—but would I listen?

My intuition continued to nudge me. As the clock ticks, we have scrambled to get help from our sponsors/angels. Even more critical is that I’m losing valuable time as the temperatures at the South Pole drops 30 degrees in the month of January alone.

Despite being told countless times that turbine engines are 100 times more reliable than piston engines (I have two turbines on Citizen of the World), it has become clear to me that everything around the turbines is like any other airplane part and subject to failure regardless of what is happening with the turbine engines.

Recognizing what was happening, listening to my intuition, talking with my team, and staying focused on safety, I decided to delay the trip by about 30 days, and then six months, to give the airplane and me more time to prepare. The good news is that the uneasiness I had been feeling subsided, and things began to unfold more easily and gracefully once again—the trip fell back into alignment. Sponsors have come forward to help with some of the costs of the windshield, the mechanics are making repairs, and my shoulder is almost pain free again.

While we can’t qualify our intuition like we can other more technical facts related to flying like our personal minimums, we can still use our intuition to guide us when it comes to our safety and that of our cherished passengers. Developing your sense of intuition is time well spent and is worth consulting before flying. Two simple questions can get you started: “How do I feel about this flight?” and “If there was no stress what would I do?” Learning how to feel your feelings and listen to what your stress is telling you will lead you to the best co-pilot you will ever have. Trust your intuition.

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently preparing for his South Pole to North Pole expedition in the “Citizen of the World,” taking off December 2018 with his mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

9 Ways to Combat Fear in a Cockpit

“A superior pilot uses his superior judgment to avoid situations which require the use of his superior skills.” – Frank Borman, Apollo 8 Commander

As pilots, we would be remiss if we didn’t talk about what we can do to mentally prepare ourselves before every flight. As the pilot in command, even if you aren’t flying a 20-plus-hour leg over the South Pole, the challenges can be similar for any flight. The goal is to be in your peak mental state to handle whatever comes your way. A quick Google search shows that 75 percent of aviation accidents are caused by human factors such as poor judgement, lack of composure, and an inability to maintain attention.

If the techniques I’m sharing would improve your performance by just a small percentage, wouldn’t that be worth it? Consider drawing on some simple Zen techniques described in my book, Zen Pilot, Flight of passion and the Journey Within, to increase your “Zen Power”—the ability to be mindfully aware in the present moment and focus on helpful thoughts and actions.

Stay focused in the moment

What happened to you last week at work or this morning at the breakfast table is in the past. Leave it there. You can’t do anything to change it. Likewise, if you are thinking about that five-figure bonus you are entitled to that Bill at the office is trying to prevent you from getting, it won’t help you in the cockpit, so don’t let it take up your invaluable and available mental and emotional bandwidth. The most you can ever hope to control is what you are experiencing right now.

Silence your mind

My mind often gets very busy before a flight. The voice of “self-doubt” seems to find its audience and share what it is thinking with me. This voice often judges me as a bad pilot. Thoughts such as, “You shouldn’t have messed that approach up,” “You should have tried harder,” “You should have paid more attention during training,” and “You should be smarter.” In this process, I basically “should” all over myself. The way out of this circular thinking is to simply say the words, “Cancel, cancel,” and use your “Zen Power” voice to remind yourself of some of your successes—“You aced that check ride!” “You read the weather properly.” “And don’t forget that landing you greased!” If you are going to tell yourself a story, you might as well make it a good one!

Overcome your fears by going deeper into them

Rather than running from the things that scare you, like most people do, I’m going to suggest something that may seem even scarier. Go deeper into the things that scare you. Take them head on. To do this, visualize what you fear most—think about it, feel it, really get into it for a few seconds. You need to feel the fear completely before it will go away. One fear for me is how I will navigate over the poles when I lose my GPS and magnetic compass. When that fear shows up, I visualize getting close to the South Pole, having my magnetic compass start to spin and my GPS fail. I close my eyes and feel the panic, confusion, and stress, and I keep going deeper into it. For a time it feels even scarier. I hold the energy and feel it completely. I have a bit of an emotional response and continue to hold it and feel it. And then something amazing happens—the fear starts to fade. In a few minutes, it totally disappears. I can breathe again. From a metaphysical perspective, I received the message from my unconscious, it’s been noticed and released, and now it’s time to keep going: dead reckon, keep the sun in the same position, switch the GPS to true north and put a waypoint before and after the pole, which it can handle.

Whose fear is it? 

Before I departed on my first circumnavigation I had three people come to me and voice their concerns. My girlfriend said, “I had a dream that you died a terrible death ALONE in the Pacific.” My dad said, “You are taking risks that you don’t need to. You’re just going to get yourself killed!” My best buddy suggested, “Wait until you can afford a turbine aircraft, which is 100 times more reliable.”  My impending flight brought up the fears of my top three supporters, but those were their fears, not mine. I listened and I gave them empathy—“I hear your concern, thank you for caring.” You can’t control other’s reactions, but you can control yours. I had to let them deal with their fears; I needed to handle my own.

What is the fear trying to tell you? Trust your intuition!

If you are waking up in the middle of the night like I have in a cold sweat or dreaming that you are stuck in your airplane at night in the water, thumbs and ribs broken, upside down as your airplane begins to sink in the ocean, then it’s time to be bold and take action! That fear is doing you a great favor and detailing what you need to focus on so you can be fully present in the cockpit. How about taking a survival course or two before you fly? Get strapped into a simulator at Survival Systems and get dunked in the dark. Or attend a course with Tim Kneeland at Survival Educators and learn how to survive in those nightmare situations. How about practicing an egress from a smoke-filled cabin at CAPS Aviation? I’ve done them all and highly recommend all of them. Each course is a full day, and it turns out, is actually fun.

Close your eyes and visualize handling different emergencies with ease

When you are sitting in the cockpit, have you ever calmly sat there and thought things like, “I’m losing cockpit pressurization. What do I do?” Me either, until I started using a Peter Schiff environmental system and did a “Zen Power” visualization. In my mind, I grab my oxygen mask, which is located over my left shoulder, place it on my face, and then turn on the backup pressurization system. Thinking through these things in the cockpit can be a great advantage when things start going south, no pun intended!

Pre-plan ways to get an answer while in flight or on the ground

What greater comfort is there for a solo pilot than being able to ask for help from an expert like a mechanic or flight instructor when an emergency arises? The good news is that technology has your answer! Handheld satellite texting devices and satellite phones by the satphonestore.com offer you an almost instant way to reach out in your time of need. I was 600 miles off the coast of California on the last leg of my equatorial circumnavigation in 2015 when my engine temperature jumped 20 degrees in less than an hour. I texted my mechanic and he quickly resolved my emergency situation. Don’t wait to ask for help and plan for it before you need it.

Override your reptilian brain and make decisions with your prefrontal cortex

When you lose your cool in the cockpit, you pretty much become the family lizard and activate your reptilian brain for the next 30 minutes. This is great if you need to kick the window out of your airplane or rip the hatch off the hinges like the Hulk. But the Hulk never flew an airplane. It is natural to go through a brief period of confusion when you’re angry or scared, but when you practice “Zen Power,” you will calm your lizard brain and switch on your CEO brain to make critical decisions. Take a few deep breaths; remind yourself that you have a lot of great training, technology, and hours flying, and then get down to business. You have all the external tools you need within arm’s reach and all the internal tools you need inside your head.

Use a simulator

If you are afraid of doing an approach down to minimums on a windy, low-visibility day with icing, then you are in luck! Most reasonable simulators today can create that exact scenario and you can fly it 100 times from the comfort of your own heated and dry home until you can do it with one eye closed. We all know with repetition comes comfort and better performance.

I hope these “Zen Power” strategies have helped you gain comfort in the cockpit. Each of them takes regular practice but will help you remain cool at that moment in time when you are called to perform like the confident pilot you have been trained to be. Remember, you have been blessed with the ability to fly. It’s a privilege to take flight, and you are an example for everyone who looks toward the sky for inspiration!

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently preparing for his South Pole to North Pole expedition in the “Citizen of the World,” taking off December 2018 with his mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.