formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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January 8, 2008 Aeronautical Decision Making

Liberty Gazette
January 8, 2008

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Last week Mike had CRM (cockpit resource management) on his mind. The concept, if done right, keeps you on your toes. I didn’t realize this before I entered the flying life, but when my mom said she pictured me “up there in the sky, just floating around, lost in thought,” it dawned on me how much I’ve really learned. The conversation went something like this:

Mom: “When you are up there flying, aren’t you just able to get lost in your thoughts? I mean, that’s what I always envision you doing, floating around up there thinking about stuff, like what you’re going to write about next or whatever.”

Me: “Not exactly, Mom. See, when you’re flying an airplane you have to keep what we call situational awareness and you have to know all these rules and regulations that apply to where you are and where you’re going and the type of flying you’re doing. You have to stay ahead of the airplane at all times; that means being ready for whatever you’ll be doing next.”

Mom: “Oh, I didn’t realize there was that much to it.”

My mom’s thoughts are typical, but a big part of what makes flying fun is the challenge, most of which is mental. It doesn’t take a powerful person to fly an airplane but your mind is busy with details all the time, taking in data, digesting it and then making corrective actions with your arms and legs. The more complex the flying environment, the greater the challenge.

Flying starts before you ever get to the airport; calling Flight Service to check the weather, planning how you are going to get from here to there, and maybe filing a flight plan. When you get to the airport you must do a preflight inspection of the airplane to make sure it is safe to fly. From take-off to landing you are continually making adjustments to altitude, heading, keeping track of where you are and navigating to your destination. Landings are the most challenging part of the flight. You can do everything else well but it’s isn’t worth much unless you can land the airplane safely.

All of this keeps the mind actively working. These challenges are what makes flying so rewarding to me. Working the mind is like exercise, if you don’t use it, it gets lazy and out of shape. It keeps me on my toes and sharp so when the unusual occurs I think I’m better equipped to deal with it.

Mike: The average pilot on an average flight will make about 1,500 different decisions. Many of these are critical choices that make the difference between success or failure of that flight. Accidents don’t just happen; they are the result of a series of poor decisions coupled with either external or internal challenges. Part of what is taught to pilots from the start is the importance of aeronautical decision making. It isn’t learned overnight and only comes with experience and practical application of previous lessons learned. A pilot’s mind is always busy, focused on the flight in progress.

Mike and Linda can be reached at

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