Why the best fighter pilots often get into big trouble

“The rating for the flight is unsatisfactory,” I said to the instructor, who had just flown with one of our best cadets.

He looked at me in confusion.

I expected this look: for him, my assessment was absolutely inadequate. We knew the student well, I read flight reports about her from two previous flight schools, as well as our squadron, where she was trained for the Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter pilot. She was excellent — her piloting technique was above average in every way. In addition, she was hardworking and well prepared for flying.

But there was one problem.

I have seen this problem before, but the instructor, obviously, did not notice it.

“Evaluation is unsatisfactory,” I repeated.

“But she flew well, it was a good flight, she is an excellent cadet, you know that.
Why not? ”He asked.

“Think for yourself, bro,” I said, “where will this 'excellent cadet' be in six months?”

I have always been interested in failures, possibly due to my personal experience during flight training. Being a beginner, I did a good job managing a small piston aircraft, and then, even a little better - with faster aircraft equipped with turboprop engines. However, when I got into advanced flight training courses for future pilots of jet aircraft, I began to stumble. I worked hard, carefully prepared, sat in the evenings for textbooks, but still continued to fail departure after departure. Some sorties seemed to go well, right up to the post-flight debriefing, at which they told me that I should try again: such a verdict shocked me.

One particularly tense moment occurred in the midst of the Hawk pilot training process, an aircraft used by the Red Arrows aerobatic team.

I just - for the second time - failed my Final Navigation Test, which is the key event of the entire course.

My instructor felt guilty: he was a good guy, and his students loved him.
Pilots do not show their emotions: they do not allow us to concentrate on work, so we “shove” them into boxes and put them on the shelf with the inscription “another time”, which rarely occurs. This is our curse and it affects our whole life - our marriages collapse after years of lasting misunderstanding caused by the absence of external signs of sensuality. However, today I could not hide my disappointment.

“Just a technical mistake, Tim, don’t worry. Next time it will work out! ”- that’s all he said on his way to the squadron, while the incessant drizzle of North Wales only exacerbated my sadness.

It did not help.

Failing a departure once is bad. It hits you hard no matter what grades you have. Often you feel your failure - you can forget to level the plane, making a mistake when taking off on instruments, stray from the airway when flying in the upper atmosphere, or forget to put the weapon switches in a safe position during a sortie. Going back after such a flight usually happens in silence: the instructor knows that you will be overwhelmed because of your carelessness, and you also understand this. In truth, because of the complexity of the flight, cadets can fill up for almost anything, and therefore often do not pay attention to small flaws - and yet it’s simply impossible to close their eyes.

Sometimes, on the way back, instructors take control of the aircraft, which is often safer.

But if you fail the flight twice, then the pressure on you increases at times.
You might think that cadets who have failed their flight twice, become closed and avoid their fellow students. In fact, classmates also distance themselves from them. They may say that they thereby give their comrade personal space, but this is not entirely true. In fact, the guys do not want to associate with unsuccessful cadets - all of a sudden they, too, will start failing because of an incomprehensible “subconscious connection”. “Like attracts like” - pilots want to succeed in their training and falsely believe that failure is not necessary for them.

After the third failure you are expelled. If you are lucky, and there is a free seat in another flight school, then you may be offered a place in the training course for helicopter pilots or pilots of transport aircraft, but there is no guarantee for this, and, often, an exception means the end of your career.

The instructor with whom I flew was a good guy and during previous flights often played a phone call in my headset until I “answered”.

“Hello,” I said.

“Yes, hello, Tim, this is your instructor from the back seat, the guy is so handsome - you can remember me, we talked a couple of times. I wanted to tell you that we have an airway ahead, maybe you would like to avoid it. ”

“Oh hell,” I replied, turning the plane abruptly.

All cadets know that the instructors are on their side: they want the cadets to surrender, and most are ready to get out of their way to help novice pilots. Be that as it may, they themselves were once cadets.

For a novice pilot, success is obviously important - it is the main focus for most cadets. They will work until late, come on weekends and watch the flight records of other pilots in order to get bits of information that can help them stay in school for another day.

But for trainers, success is not so important: there is something we are more interested in.


When I was 10 years old, my father took me on a trip to Normandy, together with a group engaged in the restoration of old military vehicles, of which he was a member. He had a motorcycle of the Second World War, which he restored, and while my father was riding next to the convoy, I traveled in a tank or jeep, having a great time.

It was very cool for a small child, and I chatted with everyone who listened to me while we made our way through the battlefields and spent evenings in camps deployed in the sun-scorched meadows of northern France.

This pastime was wonderful, until it was interrupted by the fact that my father could not control the operation of the gas furnace in the dark.

One morning I was awakened by a cry - "Get out, get out!" - and forcibly pulled out of the tent.

She was on fire. And me too.

Our gas stove exploded and set fire to the tent door. The fire spread to the floor and ceiling. My father, who was outside at that time, ducked inside the tent, grabbed me and pulled me out of it by the legs.

We learn a lot from our parents. Sons learn a lot from fathers, daughters from mothers. My father did not like to express his emotions, and I am also not particularly emotional.

But in the case of a burning tent, he showed me how people should react to their own mistakes, and in such a way that I will never forget that.

I remember how we were sitting near the river, where my father had just thrown out our burnt tent. All our equipment burned out and we were devastated. I could hear several people nearby, laughing, discussing the fact that our house was destroyed.
My father was confused.

“I lit a stove in a tent. That was wrong, ”he said. "Do not worry everything will be fine".

Father did not look at me, continuing to look into the distance. And I knew that everything would be fine, because he said that it would be so.

I was only 10, and that was my father.

And I believed him because in his voice there was nothing but humility, sincerity and strength.

And I knew that the fact that we no longer have a tent is not important.

“It was my mistake, I'm sorry that I set it on fire - the next time this will not happen again,” he said in a rare outburst of emotions. The tent floated downstream, and we sat on the shore and laughed.

Father knew that failure was not the opposite of success, but that it was an integral part of it. He made a mistake, but used it to show how mistakes affect a person - they allow you to take responsibility and provide an opportunity to improve.

They help us to understand what will drive and what will not.

That is exactly what I told the instructor of that cadet who was on the verge of graduation.

If she makes a mistake at the front, she may never return from him.

The higher you go, the harder it is for you to fall. I was wondering why no one understood this in the early stages of training.
“Move Fast, Break Things” - Facebook's Early Motto
Our too successful student did not understand the meaning of mistakes. From an academic point of view, she did well in her Initial Officer Training, receiving many accolades as she progressed through the training process. She was a good student, but, whether she believed it or not, her saga, which was a success story, could very soon be interrupted by the reality of front-line operations.

“I set her 'unsuccessful' because during her training she never received them,” I said.

Suddenly it dawned on him.

“I understand,” he replied, “she never had to recover from failures. If she makes a mistake in the night sky somewhere in northern Syria, it will be harder for her to recover. We can create her controlled failure and help her overcome it. ”

That is why a good school teaches its students to correctly perceive failures and value them more than successes. Success creates a comfortable feeling, since you no longer need to look deeper inside yourself. You can believe that you are learning and will be partially right.

Success is important because it tells you that what you do works. However, failures build the foundation for continuous growth, which can come only from an honest assessment of their work. You do not need to make failures in order to be successful, but you must understand that failure is not opposed to success and that they should not be avoided by all means.
“A good pilot is able to objectively evaluate everything that happened ... and learn from this one more lesson for himself. Up there we must fight. This is our job ” - Viper, film“ The Best Shooter ”
Failure teaches a person the same thing that my father taught me before I became a senior flight instructor in the flight school where I had been fighting for survival for years.

Humility, sincerity and strength.

That is why military instructors know that any success is fragile and real training must be accompanied by failure.

A few comments on the original article:

Tim collins
It is hard to say. Any mistake should be accompanied by a parsing that explains the failure and offers a series of actions and a direction of movement in the direction of subsequent success. Failing someone after a successful flight means making such an analysis more difficult. Of course, no one is perfect and there is always something to which failure can be blamed, but I would not be satisfied with a fabricated blockage. At the same time, I myself conducted many such reviews, advising me not to be too self-confident in the expectation that everything will always be ok.

Tim Davies (author)
I agree, the analysis was carried out, and nothing was falsified - the quality of her flights was deteriorating, and she was just tired. She needed a break. Great comment, thanks!

Stuart harth
I don’t see anything right in giving out a good takeoff for a bad one. Who has the right to evaluate another person like that? .. Is the whole analysis about her life simply based on reports on flights and CVs? Who knows what failures she witnessed or was experiencing, and how did this affect her personality? Maybe that's why she is so good?

Tim Davies (author)
Thanks for the insight, Stuart. Her flights became worse and worse, we discussed this many times until we decided to stop her sooner rather than later.

Source: https://habr.com/ru/post/464041/

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