Eye of Experience #15:
Hazardous Attitudes Revisited

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Eye Of ExperienceWhen Isubmitted my original column on the subject of hazardous attitudes,AVweb‘s editor told me that it was my bestcolumn ever. That may or may not be an accurate statement, but in any event my reply wasthat I would be willing to wager that the column would draw less reader response thanothers I have written would. My reasoning was that it is extremely difficult to get peopleinterested in the subject of safety. My prediction proved to be accurate. The column drewless than half the responses that did the second least-answered one. Nevertheless, Ibelieve this is a very important subject and one that deserves additional discussion.


Not only is the attitude of the aircraft in its spatial relationshipwith Mother Earth important, but the attitude of the pilot who is manipulating it throughthe sky is of least equal importance. Just as the correct attitude of the aircraft isnecessary to avoid a mishap, so is the mental and emotional attitude of the pilotessential for safe flight. It is this type of attitude we will be discussing here.

The five hazardous attitudes identified by the FAA are:

  • Invulnerability
  • Anti-authority
  • Impulsivity
  • Mr. Macho
  • Resignation

Just as the FAA responds to advances in technology with newrecommendations and regulations, the agency also responds to developments in our knowledgeof human factors. The mental mind-set each human being carries with him will frequentlydetermine his reaction to the situation in which he finds himself. In a previous Eye of Experience column I discussed the five hazardousattitudes identified by the FAA that tend toward starting or continuing the chain ofevents that leads to accidents. It is rarely just one of the five hazardous attitudesidentified by the FAA, but rather two or more of them that form links in the accidentchain. Additionally, as the activities of a given pilot are observed, frequently there aresigns along the way – resulting from activity encouraged by one or a combination of theseattitudes – that lead to the ultimate conclusion.

This time, we will examine some specific cases illustrating just howthese attitudes lead to serious trouble.


One case in particular stands out. Several years ago, in addition torunning a flight school, I taught a primary ground school in one of the local high schoolevening adult education programs. One semester, a widower who had been a glider pilot inWorld War II and had acquired private privileges in single-engine airplanes to go with hiscommercial glider certificate but who had not flown for several years, enrolled in theclass to get current. He brought his 17-year-old son along, thinking aviation wassomething they could share. Both came to my flight school, the father to get current andthe son to undertake primary flight training.

The father was a joy to work with. He quickly regained his flyingskill, and after only a couple of hours I was able to solo him in the pattern. The son,who was next up for a lesson, sat with me and watched his dad do a few landings. When hefinished, the father parked the airplane and came walking over to where his son and I weresitting. The boy, with perhaps three or four hours of training, leaped up and literallysnarled at his father, “Your first one bounced, you landed too long on the second,and you dropped the third one in from two or three feet!” I was aghast. There wasreally nothing wrong with the guy’s landings, but that’s beside the point. The totaldisrespect with which this kid had treated his father left me speechless.

That episode was my real introduction to the arrogant attitude ofthat smart-mouth kid. It got worse. Every time I flew with him, he wanted to argue with myexplanations and he routinely criticized my demonstrations of the primary flightmaneuvers. (MR. MACHO)

Fortunately, it didn’t last long. Before he was ready to solo, hetold me that he wanted to transfer to another flight school where they used trainers”that sort of look like little fighter planes.” Boy! Was I ever happy to be ridof him! I called the operator of the other school, a friend of mine, and alerted him tojust what he was getting, and I asked that I be kept informed of the kid’s progress. A fewweeks later I got a call from my friend, who informed me that he had thrown the kid out ofhis school. Seems that shortly after he had done his first solo in the pattern, he cameout at night and – totally unauthorized – took a friend for an airplane ride in one ofthe school trainers! (ANTI-AUTHORITY)

Rather than report him to the feds, the operator just kicked him out.I later learned that he had been refused training at two more flight schools.

After about a year, the father came to me and told me the sad storyof raising the boy by himself after his wife died, and he literally begged me to completethe boy’s training. I broke down and agreed to attempt to do so. I then interviewed thekid and I told him that if he stepped out of line or sassed me back just once I’d,”squish him like a bug!” He agreed to play by the rules and let me be theteacher. This lasted for about two sessions, and then I, too, had to kick him out.

I next heard about him another year later. Seems he had finished hisprimary training someplace and joined a flying club. He and a friend flew one of the clubairplanes to a small island in one of the Great Lakes. On the takeoff attempt for thereturn trip, he crashed into the lake and was killed. Fortunately, his passenger escapedrelatively uninjured, and was quickly picked up by a fishing boat.

In addition to the MR. MACHOand ANTI-AUTHORITY attitudes, he alsothought he was INVULNERABLE. The ultimate endto this story was as predictable as the sun coming up in the morning. It provides aperfect example of how the attitude(s) of the pilot can lead to disaster, and how morethan one of them is often involved.

Experience, A Teacher (Or Not)

When I was a very young boy, my mother explained to me that we alllearn from experience, either our own or the experiences of others. And in most cases itis a lot easier to learn from the experience of others. That’s one reason why we read andstudy accident reports – so that we won’t blunder into the same situation as the poorpilot who was involved in the accident.

We all need to have confidence in our skills, but if we permitoverconfidence to creep in, the result will be one of two things: Either we will have anexperience from which we learn and vow to never let it happen again, or we will continueto exhibit this attitude (perhaps along with other undesirable ones) until we ultimatelyencounter disaster.

As an example of the first, I once knew a guy who regularly scud-ranas a VFR-only private pilot. One day, he returned to his home airport in conditions with aceiling so low that he had to duck under the wires crossing the road at the end of therunway in order to make it in. Then and there he wisely vowed to get himself instrumentrated, and he did. Since that day he has been one of the more cautious pilots of myacquaintance. This one provides a perfect example of a pilot who learned from anexperience that had scared the daylights out of him.

On the other hand, I knew a guy – who because of his MR. MACHO and INVULNERABLE attitudes throughout his flyingcareer – kept having little warning signs involving minor mishaps, from which he refusedto learn. He carelessly taxied into a ditch. He took off one time under IFR in hard IMCwithout a chart in the airplane (he’d left them in his case in the office). He was anextremely skilled airplane manipulator, but he was overconfident and every time somethingwent wrong he was sure it was the result of some outside factor – it simply could nothave been poor judgment on his part. He also thought the rules were for other people. Inother words, he consistently displayed the ANTI-AUTHORITYattitude. This guy refused to learn from his numerous experiences, most of which mightseem like minor lapses, but instead were clear signs that a change in attitude wasrequired if he was to avoid a major disaster.


And on these subjects, many years ago we had a student, who withsome 20 hours of experience, took out a Cessna 150 theoretically to practice maneuversassigned by his instructor. Instead, he decided to attempt some self-taught aerobatics. Hespun and looped the poor little airplane, which was certainly not designed and built towithstand the forces he exerted on it on the back side of a loop. He stressed the pitifullittle machine so badly that not only were the control cables stretched, but even the sparhad started to yield! Of course, this action terminated his flight training.

In this case we had no warning signs. The guy seemed to be anexceptionally apt student, but his instability showed up not much later when he wassentenced to thirty days as a guest of the county for beating up his wife. I learned thathe spent his incarceration at a county work camp right next to the airport where he couldsee the airplanes come and go on a regular basis. He is a prime example of both the MR.MACHO and ANTI-AUTHORITY attitudes.

The MR. MACHO guy,given a choice, will take the risky way over the sure, safe one. He’s sure he can handleany situation into which he has put himself, and he knows no fear. Each successfuladventure reinforces his self-image as superman until one day he attempts the reallyimpossible and disaster befalls him. Usually these pilots are excellent airplanemanipulators; they have simply become overconfident. They are the “kick the tires,light the fires” kind of aviator who can’t be bothered with a checklist: Thoroughpreflight inspections of the equipment and using checklists are for wimps.

The Wrong Knob

Oops!As an example of the IMPULSIVITY attitude, I can cite the case of thepilot who took off from a large general aviation airport located in the middle of a city.There were two pilots aboard, one instrument-rated and one not. They had filed an IFRflight plan for a 300-mile trip. On the climb, right after takeoff (200 to 300 feet in theair) they entered cloud. The engine began to run rough and the instrument-rated pilot, inthe left seat, panicked and grabbed the first knob in front of him. Unfortunately, it wasthe mixture control instead of the carburetor heat control knob. He gave it a good healthyyank and the engine quit. The airplane crashed, appropriately enough, in a cemetery aquarter-mile off the departure end of the runway and both pilots were killed. The reasonwe know what happened is because the pilot flying the plane was found with the mixturecontrol knob in his hand. He had pulled it so hard the cable came right out.

Had this guy remained calm and applied the antidote to the IMPULSIVITY attitude the outcome would no doubthave been different. The antidote, as pointed out in my previous column, is to simplypause and think – put your brain in gear – before taking action. If one does this, theodds are that the action taken will be the appropriate one. Again, nothing’s happenin’ so fast that you have to panic!

The urge to do something immediately without deliberate considerationof all the available options is what causes people to make an instant response to asituation, and often it is the wrong response. When the heart comes up into the throat,the adrenaline starts pumping and the sweat starts pouring, some pilots are inclined tograb the first knob or control at hand and move it, just to be doing something, anything,and to do it immediately. What action they take is frequently the wrong response and realtrouble ensues, as illustrated by the above true story.

This is also what caused a highly experienced pilot to feather thewrong prop when he suffered a power loss on takeoff in a twin, causing the airplane tocrash and killing the lone occupant of the airplane.

More Than One

The files of the National Transportation Safety Board are repletewith case history after case history, accident report after accident report directlyattributable to the fact that the pilot had one or more of these hazardous attitudeswithin him. And it is frequently more than one. It seems that the individual who isconfident to the point of overconfidence, cockiness, is also likely to be the MR. MACHO type, and certain to hold ANTI-AUTHORITY feelings as well. I’m sure everyoneknows people like that. I know I do.

I have in mind one particular pilot, an absolutely outstandingairplane manipulator. He was superb insofar as flying the airplane was concerned, but hewas convinced that he was better than he actually was. He was certain he was INVULNERABLE. He was so good that nothing badcould ever happen to him. He didn’t walk; he strutted. He was also above the rules. Theregulations were for other, lesser people. He was a perfect example of defiance ofauthority. He violated every regulation every time he had a chance to get away with it

Therefore, this guy suffered from at least three of the hazardousattitudes we’ve been discussing. He was MR. MACHO,he was INVULNERABLE, and he carried with himthe ANTI-AUTHORITY attitude. He was also nodoubt IMPULSIVE. He provides an excellentexample of the fact than when one of these factors is present, one or more of the othersusually accompanies it. The single exception to this multiple hazardous attitude conceptis the RESIGNATION attitude. It usuallystands alone.

An example of this is a case in which I was training a man of thecloth. He did okay until we started serious landing work. Every time we got close to theground he simply let go and permitted the airplane to fly itself. When I asked him whatthat was all about, he replied, “God can take over now!” I explained that Godsurely wanted him to do it himself and that seemed to straighten him out.

Another example of RESIGNATIONat work is the case of the pilot with very little experience in the complex twin hewas flying who flew right into the side of a mountain, killing himself and his entirefamily. This guy just let go and let fate take over. His philosophy was “Whateverwill be, will be.” This is different from the situation in which a person freezeswith terror. In that case, the emotion of fear has taken charge and when the emotions takeover, logic goes out the window.

The Risk-Taker

From time to time we are all placed in a position where we are forcedto take a calculated risk, but most of us do this after careful consideration of allavailable options. However, there are some people who take unnecessary risks for the sakeof showing off.

I once knew a guy who flew a CE-310 and who was a big-time showoff.On all his takeoffs, he would select “gear up” prior to starting the takeoffroll, counting on the squat switch to keep the wheels under him until he lifted off. Itmade for spectacular takeoffs because just as he broke ground, the wheels would start up.Then, as soon as he lifted off, this guy would bank so steeply that it frequently appearedthat he would dig a wingtip into the ground, and at a steep climb angle he would bendaround the tower (which is located about midfield) and be on his way.

This was another guy who was an absolutely superb airplanemanipulator, but what he had in skill, he lacked in mature judgment. He was consistentlyan unnecessary risk-taker. In addition to being MR.MACHO and feeling INVULNERABLE, he also hadthe ANTI-AUTHORITY attitude, because when hedied he was descending through a cloud deck without an instrument clearance (although hewas instrument-rated and could have easily called for a clearance) and flew right into theside of a mountain.

This individual was known around the airport as an excellent pilotbecause of his skill at controlling an airplane, so nobody felt comfortable attempting tocounsel him regarding his taking chances. I seriously doubt if it would have done any goodhad anyone tried to explain the danger of his reckless maneuvers because this sort ofperson is likely to be incapable of accepting criticism.

One Last Example

A final case involved a very prominent businessman in his early 50swho lived in a small town in the Midwest and who owned a pressurized twin. A professionalpilot who was also a CFI flew the airplane for him. This man was the leading citizen inhis hometown, which is the county seat and has a small county-owned airport with one pavedrunway. He owned a manufacturing plant that was the county’s largest employer but he wasnot too well-liked since he had a reputation for being overbearing and was known forthrowing his not inconsiderable weight around. All in all, he presented a veryintimidating persona.

A Beech Baron Model 58This high-powered guy had a second homein Florida to which he regularly flew in his professionally operated pressurized twin. Hehad, however, started taking flight training in a two-place trainer. On occasion, when inFlorida, he and his pilot would rent a four-place trainer from a local FBO and he wouldcontinue his training. When they traveled in the twin, the professional pilot wouldsometimes permit his boss to push the pedals and twist the yoke. Between his training athome and in Florida, the high-powered businessman student pilot had accumulated about 30hours of dual instruction but had not yet soloed. This training was spread out over morethan a year.

One fine spring day, he showed up at the county airport where he hadbeen training, announced that here he was, ready to go, and demanded an instructor toserve him. This was his habit; no appointment, merely show up and demand service. He wasused to getting his way in all his relationships, so why not with respect to his flighttraining? The operator employed one full-time instructor who just happened to beavailable. This CFI was recently certificated and had not flown with this particularstudent previously. The overbearing student informed the CFI in his intimidating mannerthat he was ready to solo and they would go out and do a few landings so he could get onwith it. Reviewing the guy’s logbook, the CFI determined that all the required pre-solomaneuvers had been signed off by either the professional pilot employee or by the previousCFI at the FBO.

After about an hour and a half of takeoffs and landings, the CFI wasready to solo the student, but this had to be delayed since the student didn’t have hisstudent certificate with him at the time, and the CFI wouldn’t let him go without firstsigning the certificate. A couple of days later, the student showed up with hiscertificate in hand, but this time the CFI was working with another student, reviewingcross-country planning. The big shot demanded immediate attention, as was his wont, andsince conditions were perfect, the CFI dispatched him with instructions to make twotouch-and-go landings, a full-stop landing and then return to the office, anticipatingthat he would by then have completed what he was doing and be able to devote his attentionto the guy.

Another oops.Instead of doingwhat he was instructed to do, the guy made two touch-and-goes (very good ones as attestedto by witnesses at the airport) and departed the pattern. He flew over to his home wherehe had told his wife to be on the upstairs porch with a camera to photograph the event. Heproceeded to buzz his home, making several low passes over and around his house. He thenflew over to his daughter’s home, about a mile away, where he repeated the process. On thepull-up from his final low pass he stalled and plunged to earth under full power, killinghimself instantly.

This is a classic example of a combination of the attitudesidentified as INVULNERABILITY. He just knows itcan’t happen to him. He also displayed the MR.MACHO attitude plus ANTI-AUTHORITY. Putthis deadly combination together and the result is bound to be disaster. This one wasclearly predictable. You could see it coming. Given enough exposure, any pilot with thatkind of attitude is bound to get bitten. If he’s lucky, he will scare himself badly andchange his attitude, but that’s really the only way in which such an individual can bemade to change. If such a pilot has a really close call, perhaps he will realize that itcan, indeed, happen to him.

Don’t let it happen to you.

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