Friday, April 04, 2008

The importance of self-confidence

It's been a roller coaster of a couple of weeks, and a real lesson in how important it is to have confidence in one's skills. Frequently, flight (and especially instrument flight) is a microcosm of life, and the lessons learned in one apply equally to the other, and this is no exception.

Last week I had a couple of cancellations, the first because John had an emergency and had to cancel, the second because I was so tired that I was having dizzy spells after climbing a flight of stairs. Nothing a couple of good nights of sleep didn't solve, but definitely good I didn't attempt to go flying that day -- hooded flight is disorienting enough without random dizziness!

So this Monday, I dragged myself to the airport. I say "dragged" because that's exactly how I felt about it. In my last entry, I noted that instrument flight is a whole lot of work, and I've been too tired to work. I work all day, trying to squeeze 10 hours into six, leave early to go to flying, and then it's more work. It's exhausting!!

So I was sitting on a sofa organizing my charts when John showed up (he was on time, I was early). I'm sure I've mentioned this, but I do not have the ability to hide much from John -- he can read me like a book, and did so in this case. We proceeded to have a long talk about my motivation level, which he knew was approaching zero. We talked about my financial and environmental worries, which lead me to wonder exactly why I'm doing this; we talked about the fact that I'm simply too busy right now, with my job at a startup quickly ramping up into frantic mode, plus having to do my taxes and also training for a race (running), both the same week as my scheduled check ride; and we talked about how I was just sick of the whole process and viewed it as work, not fun.

He asked me why I'd started doing this to begin with, and we reflected on my initial goals. Goal #1 was to become a better pilot. Mission accomplished -- the difference between now and a year ago is night and day. Goal #2 was to not be stopped by minor layers of clouds that come over the bay area. Mission accomplished; I can certainly fly well enough to get through those on an IFR flight plan. Goal #3 was to maximize my capabilities based on how good I think I am. I think I'm really good at flying -- this is the key, and I'll talk more about that in a bit. Goal #4 was to set myself up for potentially pursuing aviation-related career options, either as an instructor or with an airline. I just turned 34, so while I'm still young, it's not like I'm 22 and have a lot of time to sit and consider my options.

So after this long conversation, we decided to go out and fly LVK ILS 25R and OAK ILS 27R. I filed a flight plan and we went to Livermore, and I set up for the ILS. Many things went right -- I'd set up properly, I intercepted the glide slope well, I followed it alright...but I missed starting the time at the FAF, and John had to remind me. He also had to remind me of something else...I can't remember what that was, but something important. The approach terminated with a circle to land runway 7R, which is what I messed up on my phase check last month, so I got a chance to redeem myself.

All in all it went alright, but I was really mad at myself for missing those two things and needing any reminders from John at all. For once I successfully hid this from him, thanked him for the reminders, and he had me fly a box pattern over the hills as I set up for the Oakland ILS. I took my time on this -- this is one thing I'd found on the last solo flight I took, is that I can help myself by actually committing to being slow. Too bad, I'm slow. If I'm too slow, someone will tell me, but until then, I'm just going to be slow. So I took plenty of time, made sure I had the radios all set up, ran through my checklists at least twice, fully briefed the approach (I'm getting the hang of this), and then finally we called up and requested the approach (we were VFR at this point; we had canceled IFR toward the end of the LVK approach).

We got a vector and I twisted the localizer. I intercepted the localizer, and then the switch flipped. I am doing this approach perfectly, I told myself. I found my focus, and stayed on it. I've intercepted the localizer. What's next? I was way ahead of the airplane on the step down fixes, and down to 1500 where I intercepted the glide slope. I started the time at the FAF, and stayed on the glide slope. My scan finally showed up; I was now flying the attitude indicator and using everything else as performance instruments. I made all the small corrections. John tried to joke with me; I ignored him. He asked me if he should shut up, I said "yes, please." We did a touch and go, and a right 270 back toward Palo Alto, and he noted that I'd anticipated this and put Oakland's South Tower in my reserve frequency in COM2. Basically I was a complete badass. What I call badass, John calls "Pilot In Command."

And there's the lesson. The FAA focuses on the following hazardous attitudes:

1. Antiauthority ("Don't tell me!") - Don't like anyone telling him/her what to do. Resentful of rules & regulations.

2. Impulsivity ("Do something - do it now!") - Need to do something, anything, quickly. Don't stop to think about better alternatives.

3. Invulnerability ("It won't happen to me.") - Accidents happen to other people, not to me. Therefore, I can take chances.

4. Macho ("I can do it.") - Always trying to prove themselves better than others. Take risks and try to impress others. Yes, women, too!

5. Resignation ("What's the use?") - I really can't make a difference. It's going to happen anyway, why bother? Leave actions to others.

But, they forgot one: A lack of confidence. I'm the type of person that's simply not going to suffer from these attitudes as listed. I know, some of you are reading this and saying "That's exactly the type of attitude that'll get you killed!" but seriously, if you knew me, you'd agree that I'm just not that kind of person -- it makes me a very antistereotypical guy, but that's very much who I am. However, I occasionally suffer from a lack of confidence, especially when overwhelmed, and that is just as hazardous an attitude as any of the above when it comes to instrument flight. If I'm in a situation where I have to figure out what to do, and I can't trust myself -- I'm a goner. This is where the belief in one's own abilities, the casting of oneself as a badass, comes into play. It may be exactly the wrong thing for some people to do, but it's exactly the right thing for me.

John and the new badass me went up again yesterday, and flew the Tracy GPS-A and the Hayward VOR DME 28L. Right from the start, my radio calls were fluent and easy, which is a good indicator of my confidence level going into a flight. I listened as many other pilots were struggling with their calls and testing the patience of ATC; there were a lot of people out there who were having trouble with their radio calls for some reason. It made me feel even better about mine when I said, "Approach, Skyhawk 21705, level 5000, request Tracy GPS-A, pilot nav, published missed, we have weather" all in one breath. We were cleared direct Manteca VOR, and I slowed and made the 340 degree right turn back on course. The approach was great EXCEPT I forgot to start my time at the FAF!! Argh! But John didn't even catch that; everything else was perfect. The missed approach was perfect, the hold at Tracy was very good.

As we entered the hold, Approach asked us our intentions. I wasn't ready for the question, and what would usually happen is that I'd let John take the call and then I'd lose confidence in myself because I felt like I didn't handle something I should have. But not badass Mayank. I took the call, fumbled it a little but got my point across that we'd want the Hayward LOC DME 28L but would hold for a few rounds to get set up. John's response: "Who are you and what have you done with my student?" which is very much a compliment. After a couple of minutes of holding (I'm slow at setting up!), Approach pinged us: "Let me know when you're ready for Hayward." "Will do." and I said to John: "Don't hold your breath!" Not only have I committed to being slow, I'm proud of it! What a great defense against feeling rushed and making errors.

After I was set up and briefed, and re-briefing myself, John said, OK, you only get one more turn. But I was done anyway, so I called up Approach and asked for Hayward LOC DME 28L. Here there was a bit of a fumble; I'd forgotten that I was still on an IFR flight plan, so really I needed a clearance to Hayward, which is what the controller gave me, and to read it back, which I did badly. But whatever. I got a vector, and twisted the localizer. I nearly overflew it, but did alright getting back on it and began my descents. I made my descents at 800-1000 feet per minute, I had all of my checkpoints lined up, I had my GPS set up for DME distances to the localizer to identify stepdowns...it was great. Slight fumble -- the last stepdown is inside the FAF, and I did not add 50 feet to the altitude, so I ran the danger of busting it (but didn't). We terminated early and turned left toward Palo Alto, where I made a nice landing.

I've gone on long enough, but I've definitely noticed the results in various aspects of my life of believing in oneself. Instrument flight is no exception. I'm so ready for my check ride; I wish it were today. In the mean time, I'm no longer dragging myself to the airport; I'm excited to take every approach and completely kick ass on each one.

1 comment:

Abigaiil Williams said...

Sometimes all it takes a good conversation to make you realize why you're doing something and to force yourself to be confident again. Glad to hear your confidence is returning! Besides, I plan on taking you up on that flight offer some day, and I'm expecting a very confident pilot. ;)

~Rita