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Aviation Safety


Dave Fry, WVFC CFI and Aviation Safety Counselor

Perfection Part 2:  The Enemy of Perfection 

Continuing the Perfection theme from a couple of months ago, let’s look at the things that get in the way of Perfection.  No surprise, many are the things that cause us trouble when flying on instruments: omission, fixation, and lack of situational awareness.  There is another Enemy of Perfection, but we’ll save it for a bit.

Among Fry’s Laws of Flying and Life is the admonition that, “Whatever you’re not looking at turns to crud”, or some similar substance.  So, if there is an instrument, gauge, traffic, horizon, or something else you’re not looking at, it’s a pretty fair bet that whatever it’s doing it’s not what you want it to.  Other examples occur, and just using the approach and landing phases of flight as examples, here we go.  If you don’t look at the centerline of the runway, you won’t land on it.  If you don’t select and aim at a specific point to touch down, you won’t land there.  If you don’t select and fly a specific pitch, power setting, and flap setting, you won’t fly your desired airspeed.  If you don’t watch the pitch attitude at touchdown, you’re likely to land fast or stall it on, or fail to follow through with the nose wheel off the ground for the beginning of the roll out.  Or pick a half a hundred other things – and that’s just the landing.

Fixation can be an extreme case of omission.  When you fixate on a single thing, it pretty much guarantees that you’ll omit something else – or everything else.  Usually we fixate on things we are having trouble with if we’re trying to improve our performance, or the thing that’s gone wrong if the spaghetti has just hit the fan.  And sometimes, if you fixate on one thing, even THAT will turn to crud.  Try flying instrument while just watching altitude – invariably your bank will drift off level, which will eventually cause high G forces and loss of altitude regardless of how diligently you look at the altimeter.  Can we say, “high speed spiral”? 

The final Enemy of Perfection (at least the last one that occurs to me in my post Rose Bowl mentality – too much adrenalin and completely blown vocal cords), is perhaps the most important.  And part of the reason for its importance is that it is related to fixing the other two.

And that is complacence.  It takes many forms.  Politically, it often comes in the form of, “It could have been worse.”  Especially while “explaining” less than optimum outcomes, as in, “The unemployment figures aren’t what we’d hoped for, but it could have been worse.”  Something we’ve heard way too often regarding any number of recent economic problems, situations, “solutions”, and consequences.  Perhaps if our politicians identified problems and tried for solutions instead of blindly making deals without considering all of the consequences….,but I digress.

In the flying game, complacency can come from comparing one’s performance to the practical test standard (clearly an important thing to do in preparation for a checkride), and determining that “I’m good enough.”

“Good enough” is implacably opposed to perfection.  One of the ancient Greeks (Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, maybe?) once said something like, “If you would become good, you must first admit you are bad.”  And if you think you are “good enough” you won’t see the need to improve.  Improving is a lot of hard work, and it’s hard to make that kind of effort if you’re already good enough.  Or think you are.

The thing that may need improving could be a maneuver.  More globally, it could be our level of understanding, our procedures, our situational awareness, our professionalism, or our communication techniques.  Oddly, or perhaps not, these topics don’t just apply to flying, they can apply to any organization you belong to as well as how you relate to it.

What would things be like if everyone at West Valley continually rejected “good enough” and tried to improve every time we flew, and every day we are at the club, and every way in which we represent the club.

We can’t ever reach perfection, but “better”, if it happens every time, soon beats the snot out of “good enough.”