Instruments AND Instincts
Are you a person that flies by the seat of your pants? Do you fly like Maverick in Top Gun where your instincts dominate? This is absolutely cool in the movies, but it kills pilots in real life and the ones that kills are the amateurs and the experienced professionals. It's called spatial disorientation. First, let me give you a definition.
Spatial disorientation – It's the inability of a person to determine his true body position, motion, and altitude relative to the Earth or his surroundings. Both airplane pilots and underwater divers encounter this phenomenon.
Teresa and I earned our PADI Open Water certifications in July 2001, which allowed us to dive 60 feet. PADI stands for Professional Association of Diving Instructors. We then went on an epic adventure in the Fiji Islands to vacation and SCUBA dive the Great Barrier Reef. This is one of the best diving spots on the planet. It was a life-changing experience. We saw incredible tropical fish, puffers, tiger sharks, all kinds of coral, and amazing sea life and creatures. You gain a respect for what's underwater. When a human becomes like a fish, you better respect that environment. We were trained to follow our instruments down to 60 feet, which basically included a buoyancy control device (a BCD), a regulator, a suit, and oxygen tank depth gauge. I learned to trust my depth gauge. It was crucial to follow my instruments as well as use my eyes and ears to decide to go up or down while diving. There's charts you follow so you don't get the bends. There are many more components. I'm just trying to keep it simple. I can remember a few times where I swam up, thinking I was going down. Even worse, I swam down, thinking I was going up. Thankfully, I learned to trust my instruments to correct my positioning under the water. When you are that deep, it is really hard to tell which way is up or down. It's scary, but it's true. I'm so thankful that I was taught to trust my instruments.
Here's another example of spatial disorientation. My friend Royce Repka, owner of Double R Flight Academy out of Perkasie, Pennsylvania jumped on a phone call with me to explain the phenomenon of spatial disorientation from the flight instructor point of view. He's been doing this for nearly a decade, and he knows his stuff. So I'll paraphrase.
"Ken, think of it like this. Humans spend 99.99% of their time on the ground. It seems flat, right!? In reality, we are standing on a curved surface that is spinning and rotating. We can see the ground and we can visually see the horizon. The ground is down and the sky is up. That's obvious. You have reference points."
I understood this from personal experience dealing with Lyme disease and vertigo. A physical therapist, who is trained in the inner ear for vertigo taught me that our eyes see the ground and the horizon and it communicates with our inner ear to balance your body in relation to the level of the earth. People with vertigo suffer dizziness because their inner ears are out of whack. Others can even get crystals that dangle in the inner ear. It can trick the senses to give you vertigo even when you're standing straight. And there are techniques that physical therapists can do to remove those crystals.
Royce continues. "That's not the case up in the air. You're in a plane that is not subject to the earth spinning. The horizon is easy to see at low altitudes. But overall, there are less references for your senses to know which way is up, down, left, and right. This is why airplanes have instruments. Here's what's crazy. Pilots get disoriented. And if they are Maverick, they trust their senses or instincts over the instruments. They even trust their own perspective over the air traffic controllers (ATCs) that are communicating to them to climb level off, etc. Spatial disorientation is the highest killer of pilots. The instruments tell you one thing and your brain tells you something else. The instruments are true. In many flying conditions, there is no horizon. The night sky is always up when you're on the ground. But in the air, the idea of horizon is totally gone. In some cases, what is up and what is down?"
I had a follow up question because he was also mentioning the FAA crash reports and how they knew that spatial disorientation was the number one killer. So how do they know that? Here's how Royce answered. He said this. "The crash itself can be obvious. When a pilot banks to the left, as an example, they immediately feel that they're going left. But if they stay banking to the left and sort of level off in the left position and keep going left, their senses tell them that they're going straight. It's crazy, right? They're actually starting in a spin and they don't realize it. This creates the disorientation. Pilots can get lost in the clouds or bad weather and not know which direction they're going. They think they've leveled out while the compass is spinning in circles. They can't believe the compass is defective, obviously. Why is it spinning because I feel like I'm going straight. But meanwhile, the plane is in a corkscrew death spiral. Those crashes are easy to assess and cite the cause of spatial disorientation. The air traffic controller has recordings of disturbing conversations with pilots. And this is in the FAA records. The pilot was either confused or they admitted they were disoriented. ATC would lead them back to level as best they could by the instrument dashboard they were looking at in front of them, showing them exactly what that plane is doing. It's banking to the left or banking to the right. It's nose-diving. It's heading up and the pilot may think he's doing totally fine and they're telling him you are going sideways. You're spinning and they're like, 'No, I'm fine'".
It's unfortunate. Some of these pilots crashed because they trusted their own senses like Maverick over the instruments and over the air traffic controller telling them what the plane is actually doing. That's a really, really, really difficult position to be in when you see black with your eyes, but someone else is telling you it's white. So who do you believe? Do you believe your senses, or what someone else is telling you? This is pivotal for anyone that ever wants to fly. This is why Royce make sure to hammer that home when he was explaining this to me. Some of the recordings from the ATC also just show the pilot literally has no idea what they're doing.
This entire thing is so chilling to me. I've experienced the underwater phenomenon. Royce's examples really hit home. I asked Royce to explain licensing next. "You're an instructor. So how does this work? Let's say I wanted to become a pilot. What does it look like for me to go from no flight hours logged to becoming a professional? Walk me through that." Royce explained the process."First, you need to train to get your Private Pilot's License. This allows you to fly during the day or night with no clouds, no bad weather. You do not use your instruments, but you use them more as a reference like your car odometer. You don't stare at your odometer while driving. You use your senses. The odometer is useful so you don't get pulled over for speeding. That's what private pilots do. They use their senses in good weather and reference their instruments to keep them safe. As an example, you're looking at the horizon to tell if you're going up, down, left, right etc. The second level of flight training is called Instrument Rating. This allows you to fly in any weather. You are literally flying using ONLY instruments, Royce and other instructors use view limiting devices to force you to remove your senses while flying in clear weather. It simulates what flying is like in bad weather or in the clouds. This rating takes the pilot from instincts with a little bit of reference from the instruments to the instruments are the truth. Use the instruments and then have your senses (your eyes and ears) as your reference. The third level is called a Commercial Pilot's License. Royce teaches all three of these. The Commercial Pilot's License allows you to get a job so that you can get paid to fly. Royce has this so he can instruct others. And he gave me this as a simple analogy. If you fly with a friend that has a private license, you will split the cost of the flight. If your friend has a commercial license, he can charge you for the flight and you pay 100%. So that's the simple way of thinking of it. But all the pilots that fly commercial for Delta, US Air, Southwest, those are commercial pilots."
I was absolutely in awe of the work that Royce does. After this phone call. I had such a new appreciation for flight and the level of skill and trust that pilots have. I fully understood why commercial pilots are paid so well. They need to be. I also was amazed at the parallels between what Royce teaches new pilots and what any business coach teaches new business owners. Are you the type of entrepreneur that is like Maverick, operating on instincts alone? You may and think that's cool or always the way you've done things. But you may also be about to go out of business in a death spiral for financial disorientation. Oh, you won't believe the bank statements or the foreclosure notices or the well meaning friends warning you that you're spinning out of control. Why would you? You're Maverick and that is how you've always done it. It's great to operate on instinct. It allows you to take action fast, but it can kill you. There is another extreme. You don't trust yourself at all. And you only trust your instruments. You look at people as numbers and closing percentages and key performance indicators. Everything is an automated number. Everything is transactional. You will not win this way either. If you do win, nobody will like you or respect you. You've tuned out people and relationships, and you will lead a lonely life. Plus, operating with instruments only is accurate but it can cause you to never make a decision and take no action.
Maverick takes all action and may die because of the risk and not checking the instruments. The over-thinker-instruments-guy may be looking at every spreadsheet in the book and never makes a decision. These are two extremes and both approaches are bad. Where's the balance? I really like Royce's explanation of the three levels of piloting. I believe that if you're more instinctual, get your Private Pilot's License, operate on instinct, but be sure to reference your instruments. Promise me though, that you'll reference your instruments. Also, I believe that if you're more instrument or numbers based, get your instrument rating, operate with instruments, but be sure to reference your instincts. Promise me though, that you'll actually reference your instincts. Some of you will go on to get your Commercial Pilot's Licenses and become coaches to others in our industry. This is a high burden like the commercial pilot, you will get paid on how well you fly, and how you instruct others to get their private licenses and instrument ratings. There are many great ones out there. I'm referring to coaches in the cleaning industry. I have personally endorsed them already by bringing them on the podcast as guests and others are coming. I too have my equivalent private, instrument, and commercial licenses and ratings to instruct a specific group of cleaning business owners. I'm the voice for the solo cleaners. You guys are my people.
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Also if you're interested in flying and you're in the Philadelphia area, check out my friend Royce Repka's Double R Flight Academy. He's a great teacher and I highly recommend him. Royce offers private, instrument, and commercial training for aspiring pilots and future Air Force Academy students.
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