Budd Davisson, Plane and Pilot

Your Cockpit Personality

My daughter, Jennifer, is always poking fun at me for the way I often relate things back to flying. She says that no matter what the subject, I'll find a way to draw a parallel to the way it works in flying. I don't do that on purpose. That's just the way it works out.

For something close to three decades, I've spent most of my flying time in a cockpit with someone who I'm expected to teach something. Beause the kind of instruction I do these days is more transitional stuff than starting from scratch, I spend almost all my flying time with folks who already have a pilots license. They aren't embryionic airmen, they are pilots who have already developed the traits that form their flying personality.

We're not talking about skill levels here. Or experience. What we're talking about is the way an individual relates to an airplane. Further, I claim that also says a lot about the way the same person relates to life in general.

Almost any instructor can fly with an individual for only a few minutes and, if he's of a mind to, make some fairly accurate statements about that person's personality and how they run their lives. The way a person flies an airplane says volumes about their mental processes, their personality traits and the way they interact with the rest of society.

People don't normally change their personality to fit the occassion. Even if they do, put one of those social chameleons in a cockpit and it instantly strips its camoflage away. A person cannot fake a personality in an airplane. The airplane filters out all the B.S. and lets only the real person show through.

There is something about an airplane and the multitude of ways it can be flown that carefully mimics the individual's personality regardless of how well or how badly they fly. Maybe it is the fact that the third dimension makes it easier for an individual to make his/her own interpretation of flight.

It's like sheet music and musicians. The notes are all there. The melody is set in concrete. Still, different musicians will interprete it entirely differently and never know they are doing it. One will be smooth and lilting, another will be technically correct but without feeling and yet another will be hard and coarse. The notes may all be played, but whether it is music or not is dependent on the interpretation. Airplanes are yet another kind of music and the musician definitely shows through.

There are lots of different personality traits that show up in an airplane. Probably the first is the individual's sensitivity to everything around him. In an airplane sensitivity surfaces as a smooth interface with the machine. He/she feels what the airplane is saying and reacts in a way that, through a gentle hand, shows a caring, gentle spirit. Don't read this to mean a panty-waist approach to aviating. A person can be doing the hardest aerobatics you can imagine and still show sensitivity. He isn't mercilessly hammering the airplane in a crude exhibition of physical force. He/she is smoothly but firmly telling the airplane where it should go and how it should do it. The net result looks the same from the outside, but the airplane knows the difference. Anyone in the airplane with the pilot can also tell the difference. The horizon may be whipping around, but the way the G goes on, the way the ailerons go in is subtly different. There is a sensitivity to it. A smoothness that says the pilot is listening to what the airplane is telling him.

Show me a pilot who disturbs the airplane every time he touches it and I'll show you a pilot who drives the same way and probably works with people the same. He may be a little short with them and isn't as considerate as he might be. He'll wait too long to give instructions to a subordinate or gives incomplete instructions and then is angry, when the job isn't done the way he wanted. The lack-of-sensitivity list goes on and on.

And then there is the ability to look down the road and incorporate planning into their life. A person who looks ahead in life, doing his best to smooth things out with a little planning, generally does the same thing in an airplane. Although he may start out behind the airplane, he recognizes the situation and works to remedy it. He doesn't like crisis to crisis management and will try to visualize where he wants the airplane to go and how to get it there. He doesn't wait until it is time to turn base to begin thinking about it. He already has base and the turn to final planned in his mind and it becomes a simple matter of flying his plan.

A lot of my time is spent introducing folks to the sometimes hairy world of landing a Pitts Special and the first personality trait that surfaces is the willingness to accept a challenge. Some rise to the occasion. Some are beaten down by it.

During a Pitts landing everything is unbelievably compressed so if he is slow to see what is happening around him, he'll be slow in catching up with the airplane. If he has filled his life with motorcycles and ski boats, skeet shooting or car racing, he has already demonstrated he likes the challenge of controlling his environment and he is very aware of what's going on. He'll do fine in the Pitts.

If he watches a lot of television and putters in the garden, he can still catch up, but the challenge will be harder. However, the willingness to tackle that challenge says a lot about the individual. He shows he isn't afraid to put his ego on the line in the name of learning. He accepts the challenge of improving himself and is willing to put himself through what ever it takes to gain that improvement.

Seldom is a pilot who is willing to accept a challenge in the cockpit unwilling to do the same in the real world. There will be varying degrees of this trait, but if it shows up in an airplane, there's a 100% probability it is central to the person's personality.

An individuals reputation as a pilot is nearly always his reputation as a person. Think about that the next time you strap it on. See what the flight says about you.