After the couple of years it took for me to get through the private pilot checkride, I flew as much as my meager budget and family responsibilities allowed. I took a few friends aloft, and flew the family, including trips to visit relatives. After a couple of cancellations for weather, I decided I needed to add the instrument rating and soon found myself frequenting a flight school again, getting to know some of the other pilots working toward the same goal. At some point, my fellow instrument students and I began to buddy up with each other; we’d fly out to Point B with one of us wearing Foggles and the other serving as the safety pilot, land, switch seats and reverse the process back to Point A.
As luck would have it, my first time for this arrangement found me in the left seat for the outbound leg. My safety pilot had done this before, and was wise enough to let me do the flying, without much extraneous conversation. After stretching our legs and checking weather, we mounted up. As the left-seater got settled, he started fiddling with the cockpit, disturbing the way I had set up the flight deck and what I considered dumb things like using a different radio as his primary and writing down all of the ATIS information, plus our taxi and takeoff clearances.
Since this was my first time in the right front seat, I was startled by how different everything seemed. And I started talking, and trying to fiddle in the cockpit. Soon, the left-seater took a deep breath and asked me if I was okay, that I seemed anxious. He added that I was distracting him and he really needed to concentrate while hand-flying on instruments and talking to ATC. Basically, he told me to sit down and shut up. And he was right; I wasn’t paying attention outside the airplane as I should have been.
This was my first time in the right seat; all my cockpit experience had been when I was either learning to be or serving as pilot in command. I didn’t realize sitting in the right seat meant I wasn’t in charge. The left-seater and I got along fine after I acknowledged his concerns. But until then, I didn’t understand and fulfill my role as a safety pilot. In hindsight, we should have discussed our roles in detail before turning the key.