The Stranger in the House

If you think your flying is beyond reproach, better think again


This just in: If you think youre a hot-shot pilot, youre probably not.

A psychology professor at Cornell University found that people who do something badly are usually supremely confident of their ability – more confident, in fact, than people who do it well. Writing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Prof. David Dunning and his associate concluded that the skills required to be competent are the same skills required to recognize that the task is being done well. So someone who cant do something lacks the capacity to realize it.

The researchers cite many examples: people who arent funny but persist in telling jokes, or stock traders who repeatedly jump into the market and lose out.

We all know people whose brash talk and outspoken hangar flying seem to be at odds with what their flight instructors see come BFR time. Conversely, we also know those who are outstanding stick-and-rudder technicians but who are demure about their ability.

Next time you think you know it all, think of Prof. Dunning and imagine what he might say if you said you hadnt blown an instrument approach in five years or that every landing has been a smooth one.

Flying is unlike most fields of human endeavor because there are few activities, be they hobbies or professions, where the participants spend so much time and effort examining what went wrong. Pilots study accidents, talk about technique and practice enough to put skiers, boaters and football players to shame.

But sometimes we do let confidence become cockiness, leading to the attitude that landing minimums apply to others and that misfortune will dare not cast its hostile glare in our direction. Thats when even experienced, conscientious pilots can be bitten.

Dont let anyone get away with pretending they can do more than they can. Even if that person stares at you in the mirror while you brush your teeth.

Avoiding the problem is easy. Here are some suggestions:

• Fly with as many other pilots as you can, even if you have to hire them for a couple of hours.
• Expand your horizons to include new destinations and new airplanes.
• Turn off the autopilot.
• Let other pilots have their say during those rainy-day hangar flying sessions. You might learn something besides humility.

Theres an old song about a stranger in the house who looks like me. Dont let your flying turn you into the kind of pilot everyone else recognizes as the kind to avoid.

-Ken Ibold


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