Yesterday, my dad rang me up to tell me that he’d written a letter to The Log (a magazine for airline pilots) and that his letter had been published and he had won a prize. A £200 voucher for specsavers – exciting stuff indeed. My dad loves writing letters, especially if he’s got some important point making to do, and he promised to email me a copy. I read it this morning and it gave me food for thought.
According to my dad, the letter below was in reply to an article by ‘”Some military arse” in which he banged on about how airline pilots should practice hand flying more’.
This same ‘military arse’ apparently used the term Armageddon to mean a big emergency in the air.
“I read Jonathon Dunn’s article in The Log Feb/March 2012 and came away rather confused. Although he claims to not be “Just another military arse”, his article is so full of military slang and jargon that I would be surprised if he had spent much time in an airliner cockpit.
I certainly would agree with him that watching an autopilot for an hour doesn’t hone the control handling skills as much as an hour’s aerobatics or, maybe an hour’s glider towing, but that is not what it is about.
My job in the Airbus I fly is mostly management; not getting into circumstances where great skill is required either in the air or on the ground. I have a crew, a ground crew and a hundred and fifty passengers none of whom are subject to The Air Force Act, but all of whom are part of what I attempt to achieve every day. I have just chatted to my First Officer who agrees that what he is learning to be is a Captain, not a pilot with fantastic flying skills.
What we do in an hour of cruise is often to talk, often, inevitably about our job, very often about how either we or others have made the right decision or got it wrong. This is probably more valid than hand flying the aircraft for that hour.
What we are both doing is putting more items in our “solution bucket”, that helpful little place where we keep the solutions to problems that have happened before so we can take them out, see if they fit what is happening now and use or reject as seems fit. My “solution bucket” has a lot more items in it than the First Officer’s because I have had 18,000 more hours to find things to fill it.
Current thinking is that most skills (from cabinet making to driving a car) require about 10,000 hours to reach the highest levels of skill. That is probably as true of managing an aeroplane and the people on and around it as anything else. Most of the problems I attempt to minimise in my job are definitely not connected with moving the controls, indeed fairly high on the list of priorities when things go wrong is engaging the autopilot.
That would also apply in “Armageddon”.
I considered how through most of the documentary making process that I too was creating and making use of a “solution bucket”. The only problem is that, like the first officer, my bucket currently isn’t brimming with many solutions. At times, the current film I’m making has caused me a great deal of anxiety as I don’t feel experienced or well equipped enough to complete it satisfactorily. In an odd way my dads’ idea of a “solution bucket” has given me some comfort. Ok I may not have all the answers now but all I need is some more “flying hours” and hopefully I’ll find them. Failing that, I’ve certainly utilised the skill of turning a positive into a negative!