Flying

Curiosity of flying, or should I say first, the fear of flying, started when I was a kid. A sudden episode of clear air turbulence got me up in my seat, all white and wondering for the reason the plane behaved in such a way. Amid the articles of plane crashes, that I could not stop reading as I loved reading newspapers — i projected this atmospheric event to the most dire state created by a mind of an imaginative youth.

Inability to control your destiny, or in darkest terms, your fate, is one of the prime reasons people fear to fly — it is too high, too fast and too unpredictable based on how they feel they are in control while travelling by car, by train — but flying seemed unnatural right from the start. There are just too many variables for the mind and why it can all go wrong, where the mathematical and physical model for 2-dimensional travel (hardly one imagine going up and down) sounds more comforting.

The fear progressed and firmly entrenched itself in the core of my head as I took more and more attempts to combat it — without understanding it was like daring in the dark room without the ability to project a ray of light, believing the darkness would consume you. A technical fault on one of the flights I took (the ceieling came crashing and the airduct system was leaking conditioner like rain) did not bode well for displacing the fear.

In my consultancy career, learning how artfully one of the companies we were assisting cut costs on maintenance and shiften the proceeds to marketing did not help either. A stiff smile on my face was all I could muster to brave through the trips as they came more often, as my hopping career advanced.

And then the fear stopped.

How could they take such huge risks of flying where so much is unknown? In fact the opposite was true. The plane is part of the system that is more secure than the factors contributing to car crashes on the ground. A standard operations procedure manual honed after decades of flying, established procedure for every element that should as well as might take place: parking, taxiing, takeoff, initial ascent, cruising altitute, descent preparation, final approach, go-around and landing….

I learned it in… a surgeon book. Thanks to New Yorker I found a person who’ve improved survival chances in ER and surgery by employing a critical element of SOP of pilots — a checklist. A manual simple and powerful enough to diagnose a problem or rather prevent one happening by allowing to focus on the sequence of tasks allowing the near perfect execution of action with minimum effort and maximum efficiency — that was something for a consultant’s mind like mine.

Not willing to heed to passionate voices of relatives and friends devoid of my fear, I followed the logical mind and ate the book. Moreover, I started living by the checklist code — while contributing to a number of projects that improved markedly — it also allowed by to understand better what happened behind the reinforced door of the cockpit.

Living by the code

Turn on the APU, then switch on the APU bleed air as well as power the APU gen to power up the craft.
Turn on Gen 1 and 2 to start accumulating energy and be ready to power-up the engines 1 and 2 while taxiing.
Turn on the hydraulic valves to allow for slats and flaps to extend to allow lift during take-off and descent.
Switch toggles to IGN for engine 1 and then 2 and open up fuel valves, oh, before that turn on the fuel pumps.
Turn eng 1 and 2 to Cont if taking off during overcast to protect against flameout and turn switch of autobraking to RTO…
Packs on engines, taxi, takeoff-power set, TOGA, 80, V1, rotate…

The undestanding of how this rules system influences the craft and how the pilot and the plane fuse together in one living and breathing creature — makes the nutters and geeks squeek with enjoyment. The advent of video streaming and dash-cams also allowed to enrich the experience and ultimately — turn the fear of flying into fear of not being able to continue to fly.

Therapy

  • Checklist Manifesto — a book by Atul Gawande on how checklists first introduced for Boeing changed the odds for ER patients and in surgery
  • Skyfaring — a book by B747 pilot and sky lover, Mark Vanhoenacker
  • Try PilotsEye.tv and certain clips almost constantly leaking on to the Web — my favourite is Lufthansa’s former chief pilot Jürgen Raps piloting a maiden A380 service from FRA to SFO
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