Fly the Airplane

Hutchinson’s Law: If a situation requires undivided attention, it will occur simultaneously with a compelling distraction.

Pilots face the interesting challenge if navigating in a third dimension, often at double, triple or more the speed of any other mode of transportation. As with driving a car, catching a ball or starting a new business, distractions pop up regularly in the flight environment. A passing bird, a strange noise, a passenger issue and any of a thousand other events can come up, usually at the most inopportune time, say on take-off, landing or during any one of a number of critical phases of flight.

The way you handle the distraction has a significant influence on the remainder of the flight. A friend of mine was flying a twin engine Beechcraft Baron that he was recently rated to fly and was cut off by another pilot at an uncontrolled field (an airport with no control tower) while turning onto final approach. The fellow who cut him off was well-known for his blatant disregard of standard protocol for entering the landing pattern and in this instance he made no radio calls as he barged his way into the airport.

Knowing this and in hindsight, my friend admits that he shouldn’t have let it bother him, but unfortunately he did. His fixation on the disrespectful pilot now ahead of him interrupted his normal landing checklist and flow and as a result, he forgot to extend the landing gear. Fortunately for him, another pilot taxiing to take off announced “Gear up! Gear up! Go around!” as my friend was in his landing flare, no more that 15 feet above the tarmac.

Such distractions come up all the time in life, especially in situations that require your undivided attention. You might have noticed that they tend to come up during critical phases in your life, such as when you are moving through a significant transition.

Times of change bring with them an uncomfortable pressure and distractions provide a useful body to the phantom pressure. After all, nobody likes a ghost! Beware of distractions during times of intense change, especially in the final moments before the newness sets in. Just like a pilot on final approach, it behooves you to to be ready for anything.

Distractions will come up, but don’t bite. Don’t let the surprises consume your attention. Take note, but get back to business as soon as possible.

As any pilot will tell you, the best thing to do when something unexpected happens is to “fly the airplane.”

14 thoughts on “Fly the Airplane

  1. TW

    Great post on the importance of not allowing the craziness around us to distract us from our own responsibilities and losing focus in critical times. It is important as well, as noted by your readers, to take take the time to listen when someone is giving you direction from a different perspective. It could save your life, literallu and figuratively. Thanks!

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    1. Gregg Hake

      Great point! Refusing to do so cuts you off from a valuable resource. I’ve heard pilots on occasion who take exception to helpful suggestions from air traffic control, typically to defend a bruised ego. I just don’t get it.

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  2. Joshua

    Navigating the winds of change, are certainly a challenge, and thank-god for that!
    As we handle those situations / distractions from that place of peace that expects them, we generate much needed momentum that will be used in handling the greater challenges to come!
    One of the keys in navigating such times is remaining in the driver seat, for if the pilot got distracted by a “Pretty bird” and jumped out of the plane to chase it, I’m sure the results could be disastrous…..(With or without a parachute)!
    The same is true in navigating our lives backed by purpose, their needs to be those present who can relax and abide in the driver seat “REGARDLESS” of the possible iminent distactions that pop-up.
    Thanks for the reminder today Gregg!

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    1. Gregg Hake

      Yes and yes. It got his attention for sure. It could’ve been a much more expensive learning experience had he not been helped by a fellow pilot…

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  3. Ricardo B.

    Appreciate the abundant reminders throughout your writings on the importance of staying focused. Any stagnant area of living should immediately be viewed from these lenses and no doubt the solution will appear quite starkly. Distractions are rampant in today’s world, and never should we let ourselves be dominated by these attention zappers for our very livelihood is at stake. Knowing how to separate the important from the critical and then acting on that consistently is a learned skill and there’s certainly an art to it, but these are built on precendent and good habits and are easily robbed if we have chinks in the armor of awareness.
    Don’t know if that is why you have emphasized this point time and again, but I certainly have benefitted and surely thank your efforts!

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    1. Gregg Hake

      The world at-large offers many wares to unwary ones seeking happiness, cheap distractions that have nothing to do with the revelation of purpose and the actualization of potential. I am often amazed at how perfectly intelligent and capable people get sucked into the darndest things, learning nothing from the experience and gaining nothing from the exercise. Life lessons are plentiful and hugely instructive if you think on them. If you fail to review them from time to time you can miss a ton of clues as to how to live more generatively, creatively and happily.

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  4. Vincent

    It is true that often as pressure builds and factors narrow down to a crucial action or decision of some kind, the distrations increase in both frequency and intensity. Learning to maintain focus, or actually increase it, during those times is vital to successful navigation of those points. What is significant and what is extraneous? Both cognitive and intuitive perception come into it, but ‘staying on target’ is the central need in such cases.

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    1. Gregg Hake

      Absolutely. Sometime you get a “freebie,” where the distractions are minimal as the changes roll through, but you certainly cannot count on that as it is the exception, not the norm!

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  5. Doug

    Great story, glad it ended so well. It is also notable that generally pilots seem to look out for each other, hence the warning. I sometimes wonder when I see a problem that has caused endless grief for many, did it begin with one person becoming distracted at a critical point?

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    1. Gregg Hake

      Pilots do, unless egos get in the way (which also happens). Learning to fly a plane offers many lessons in teamwork while also emphasizing that you, as pilot in command, are ultimately responsible for your ship no matter what happens. Should be a required component of high school!

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