psychological aspects of flying
Your attitudes and
general mental state are just as important to safe flight as the
condition of your aircraft. Any disturbing feelings which affect your
ability to concentrate are a potential threat. These include anger,
fear, frustration, depression, worry, and anxiety.
A certain amount of
anxiety is inevitable in flying. In small amounts, anxiety is even
desirable. It is nature's way of keeping you slightly keyed up for your
task and alert to danger. But excessive anxiety, like other troubling
emotions, can detract from your ability to concentrate in the cockpit -
and perhaps lead to disaster.
If you bring your
problems from the ground into the air, you are not only more easily
distracted from the job at hand, your body becomes less able to adjust
to various stresses. Memory, judgment, and presence of mind are crucial
during flight and, surprisingly, muscular skills are closely linked with
mental capacity. When one becomes defective, the other usually does,
too. For example, if you are disturbed and preoccupied about something,
you may lose some of your ability to time movements accurately, or your
brain may fail to interpret what your eyes see on the instrument panel
into a meaningful message. Research from the FAA's Civil Aeromedical
Institute shows that emotional disturbances can even hamper the body's
adjustment to altitude.
The pilot who flies just
after a fight with his wife may mentally re-create their argument with
such clarity during the flight that he forgets to switch fuel tanks or
inadvertently moves his mixture control to idle cutoff instead of
pulling the carburettor heat control.
Occasionally, a pilot
who has family or job problems on his mind starts to carry his worries
over into flying. In other words, he may become preoccupied with fears
about flying or possible physical reactions at altitude. If this happens
to you, be honest with yourself and get the professional advice of a
doctor. Although anxiety of this sort is usually temporary, it can
dangerously affect your flight performance and cause you further
emotional problems if it is ignored.
The "compulsive flyer"
has a special psychological quirk. He can't stand to turn back. He has a
tendency to stretch his skills beyond safe limits, rather than change
his flight plan. Whether pride or simply an inflexible personality is at
fault, he is the pilot who continues ahead in marginal weather -
sometimes at the cost of his life.
When you are under a
strain of any sort - when you don't feel "good" - don't fly. If your
concerns are only of the mild, everyday sort, at least recognize that
they exist. Then make an extra effort to concentrate on flight planning
to focus all your attention on aircraft operation, and to leave your
other concerns behind you - on the ground.