The Perils of More Flying Hours!

There is a natural tendency to assume that more hours (experience and ratings) somehow “automagically” makes a pilot almost wiser and safer; NOT! I can tell you from experience (50 years in the game) there is also a definite force toward stupidity in every added hour unless you work very intentionally to learn more every day and sharpen your awareness. The peril of more flying hours might be called the “ground hog effect?”

A pilot can experience thousands of unique learning experiences while accumulating hours (eyes wide open) or alternatively they can have that “same hour” thousands of times due to complacency. The repetition can either be deadening, or be a unique learning experience that is joyful (and safer). The difference is all in our awareness and attitude. The same force that makes a 300 hour pilot (in a “fifty mission leather jacket”) dangerous, also makes a jaded 50 year flying pilot dangerous; pilot attitude!

The safety challenge of “attitude” is not necessarily the practice of skills (though heightened awareness will inspire skill practice and improvement). This daily challenge is awareness; how we mentally approach the whole process of flying. Greater awareness and attitude is the heart of safety because risk hides in the familiar. Surprisingly, 73% of accidents start at the perceptual level. They involve a failure to even perceive the threat in front of us; arghh!

One way to inspire greater awareness and combat complacency I would recommend for *every* pilot (at every level) is listening to an excellent audio book by Michael Maya Charles; “Artful Flying!” I have written about the hard copy previously, but during COVID, author Michael Maya Charles recorded an audio version of this book that is even better than the written version (my opinion). He is an amazingly engaging reader that makes his message come alive.

Download and listen to this excellent book, and I guarantee it will improve both your safety *and* your enjoyment of this amazing flying adventure we are blessed to be part of.  What Artful Flying inspires is “beginner’s mind.”  This is disciplined approach to living/flying, which is ready to learn and avoids the “comfort zone” (and associated complacency that we as humans tend to crave). To stay sharp as a pilot, we must  conscientiously stay a little “on edge” and constantly anticipate new and novel situations. A fresh view of the world avoids stereotyping and is open to surprises. Give this audio book a try here with a FREE intro online. Full disclosure; no freebies for me, I bought this new audio book  and I love it!

SAFE #OSH22 Dinner and Poll

Thanks to everyone that was able to attend our  SAFE dinner at #OSH22! This was a much larger venue (on the EAA campus). We swung for the fences and filled the house. Richard McSpadden was an incredibly engaging speaker with a wonderful message for all educators. This larger venue on the EAA grounds was a big success, thanks for your support and also for ideas on our SAFE poll.

There are more pictures from this show in our SAFE Strategies. Professional photographer (and SAFE member) H. Michael Miley provided a full Flicker file from the event. Subscribe to our SAFE StrategiesMagazine for a monthly bundle of CFI resources and flight training news. (10K subscribers now and growing)! Update your CFI knowlege with CFI-NOTAMS. (all these are on the SAFE App) Fly safely out there (and often).

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Author: David St. George

SAFE Director, Master CFI (12X), FAA DPE, ATP (ME/SE) Currently jet charter captain.

7 thoughts on “The Perils of More Flying Hours!”

  1. Great recommendation on audiotape Artful Flying! Important flying mindset tips here. Thanks👏👏👏 David

  2. I must agree. When I was flying for hundreds of hours back and forth across the Bahamas it was very mundane. There were some emergencies over the years, but most of the time it was the same old thing.
    I then went to fly in Seattle and Portland after the Caribbean flying and it was like learning to fly all over again. In the high mountains flight is much different than the flat land sea level flying I had done for years.
    I just noticed the same thing again out in Logan, Utah, where I went to fly a R22 helicopter. I originally trained for my helicopter rating in an R22… Taking off we were already at 6500ft density altitude. The performance loss was very noticeable. I’m a commercially rated helicopter pilot, but, there is no way I’d fly in those conditions without training.

  3. I’ve lectured for years on this subject.
    Flying hours are actually a very poor indicator of pilot competence. (I could stop here and speak of normalization of deviance and fill a book the size of War and Peace) but not being Tolstoy I shy away from glaring pedanticism when at all possible.
    I will say that as a check pilot I have seen pilots with low hours who possess excellent skill sets and pilots with thousands of hours who were seriously lacking in basic flying skills.
    The common denominator that defines a great pilot is ATTITUDE. It’s attitude that forms the foundation for all that is built upon that foundation and that attitude is formed early on. It can be and usually is (both bad and good) the direct result of how a flight instructor interfaces with a new pilot. What happens early on with this relationship will define both the quality of the instructor and what a student pilot carries with them through an entire flying career. IT’S THAT IMPORTANT !

    We all know the platitudes, but platitudes don’t make an excellent pilot. It’s much more basic than that. Excellence is built on the constant avoidance of complacency; an open and unabashed refusal to “settle in” to routine; to constantly treat every flight as a new experience requiring a total commitment to the basics.
    Yes, it’s not the hours spent in the air that makes a successful pilot. It’s how those hours are spent.

    1. Thanks for that great addition (and verification) of this article. As humans we always seek comfort….and complacency lives in the “comfort zone!” Unfortunately, safety requires *avoiding* “fat, dumb and happy” and instead anticipating possible problems at every turn; staying vigilant. Then the senses are tuned and we discover and learn new things (and detect problems much sooner).

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