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Aviation Safety


Dave Fry, WVFC CFI and Aviation Safety Counselor


Arrogance and Confidence, Belief and Knowledge


In the political arena, each of us can point to a person with a lot of arrogance.  Well, perhaps more than one.  Depending upon your political persuasion that may or may not be the person that comes first to my mind.  Still, if we look at one of the primary differences between arrogance and confidence (“confidence” has the skill to support the attitude), we could clearly call nearly all politicians arrogant.


In pilots, confidence is a wonderful thing. Fighter pilots wouldn’t be able to get out of the house without it.  They KNOW they are the best.  They KNOW that nothing can happen that they can’t handle.  And to a great extent, they are right.  They are the result of an extensive selection process – if you’re not good enough, if you don’t have the drive, the desire, and most of all the skill, you don’t become a fighter pilot.  Equally important, fighter pilots TRAIN.


On the other hand, in pilots, confidence can be a disastrous thing.  An unfortunate trait of some pilots is that there is a difference between their level of confidence and their level of skill.  Depending upon the direction of the disparity, the greater the difference, the greater the risk they take when they fly, and worse, the greater the risk for their passengers and the people sharing the sky with them.  I can think of only a couple of cases over my 40 years of instructing in which the pilot had more skill than confidence.  And that, I told each of them, showed a shocking lack of faith in the judgment of their instructor.


Virtually all instructors can tell stories of people that can’t (or don’t) follow ATC instructions and miss radio calls aimed at them, and think it’s OK, because it’s normal for them.  Or routinely come in five to ten knots below the published approach speed, and don’t even wonder if it’s unsafe.  Or ten knots fast in a slippery plane landing at a short runway. I even had a student that, while in actual IFR had slowed below the approach speed and was sinking below the minimum altitude for that segment of the approach, and didn’t even notice we were doing anything wrong – and this was an instrument pilot current and fully qualified in the plane we were flying.


The fundamental problem is that however much we want to improve our flying skills by practicing by ourselves, we never see our performance with a resolution of someone better than we are.  And that first of all means honestly believing that someone IS better than we are (a very tough thing for fighter pilots – but that’s why the Navy has Top Gun, and the Air Force has Red Flag and William Tell competitions), then, finding that person.  To my knowledge, there isn’t a single pilot that is better than EVERY other pilot in all aspects of flying.  For example, while I will (modestly or otherwise) admit I’m pretty good at landings, and at keeping my cool when the spaghetti is being dumped into the fan in industrial quantities, I know there are LOTS of people, including several in this club, from whom I could learn a lot about aerobatics. Assuming I had a desire to reexamine my most recent meal.


Worse, every pilot’s skill level is a variable. I had a recent conversation with an airplane manager that, upon finding that I am Part 61.58 current in the Pro Line 21 version of the CJ3, asked if I would feel comfortable flying an approach to minimums into Teterboro.  I replied, “No.  I haven’t flown the Pro Line in over 8 months.  Even though I’m legal, I know I’m not at the top of my game in the Pro Line. Put me into a G-3000 CJ, and I’m your guy.  Or catch me a day or two after I do a recurrent in the Pro Line at FlightSafety, and I’d be comfortable.”  And even that makes a bunch of assumptions.  An approach to minimums is not to be taken lightly even in a plane in which one is really familiar.  Even when we’re current, we all have good days and bad days.


In addition to the arrogance factor, we have the difference between belief and knowledge.  Belief is something that may or may not have any factual basis in reality. Knowledge is something that has been tried, tested and found to be true.  Any pilot can believe himself or herself to be a truly Sierra Hotel (the polite version) pilot, but when those skills are examined by a better pilot, there are usually a sizeable number of improvements that could be suggested. This is not to say that the pilot is BAD, just that there is room for improvement.


So, if you want to get better, and KNOW that you have the skill to back your attitude, if you want confidence, not arrogance, find and fly with someone better than you are.


If your prospect’s car has a “DAMN I’M GOOD” bumper sticker, you may want to re-think your evaluation.