CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 2 MICHAEL SAWYER
All too often in aviation we are hesitant to admit when we don’t know something or, even worse, that we made a mistake. This is not surprising considering that, as a community, we are mostly Type A personalities. This was never more evident to me than when my unit began to turn in our OH-58A/Cs and transition to the UH-72 Lakota.
When we picked up the first two aircraft from the factory, we had four Readiness Level 4 pilots with the 9.5 hours of experience earned at the Eurocopter two-week factory transition course and two instructor pilots who had about 30 hours each in the aircraft. For all of us, this was a second and, in some cases, third aircraft qualification. We knew how to fly, but with about 100 hours total Lakota time in the company and little to no institutional knowledge available, we relied heavily on honest feedback from each other. This was especially true when it came to flying instruments using the commercial avionics and autopilot.
For the next three to four months, as the two IPs progressed, the other four of us quickly realized the quickest way for us to learn and become effective with our new aircraft was to let the “I’ve-got-this” attitude go and develop a more humble and open attitude about our mistakes. Once we realized the difference this was making, we began to “confess” not only our mistakes, but the close calls as well. This allowed for everyone to “experience” the same mistakes, gain the knowledge of those mistakes and avoid establishing any trends before they could become a problem.
In other aviation units I’ve been in, it was an almost taboo thing to admit when you had made a mistake or a decision you wished you could take back. Observing other units I’ve worked with has shown me that this is nowhere near an isolated phenomenon. I wonder how many aviators have had a close call or made a bad decision that might have been avoided if they had heard of someone else making the same mistake. If nothing else, hearing someone else’s experiences, both good and bad, gives another person the opportunity to think through a situation before they are faced with it in real time and are in position to affect a better outcome than would have been the case otherwise.
This attitude has to come from the top down. In my case, it started with the company commander and standardization pilot. They set the example and encouraged us as a group to discuss both our successes and our mistakes. This doesn’t have to be any kind of formal event, but more of a willingness to admit our mistakes and close calls.
Speaking as someone who was the junior pilot in my formation, this kind of attitude gives new aviators the confidence to not only speak up, but to see the thought process of those multi-thousand hour guys as well as discuss those decisions outside of the cockpit. This mindset has now been a key factor in our unit’s success for years. Make it part of your unit’s culture.