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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."


Type rated on A330, B747-400, B747, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

HOW GOOD DO YOU WANT IT?

Welcome to T.H.ursdays with Tom Hill

"How good do you want it?" I asked this question about 30 years ago when I started my first aviation training course, navigator training with the US Air Force (USAF). 


I was a recent graduate from university, having performed relatively well the last couple of years. Navigator training was the start of my professional career and I thought to myself, "I wonder how good I could have it?" Since I hadn't done any flying before, and certainly hadn’t done any USAF training like this before, I had no idea what to expect. I didn't know if I could do well. I didn't know if it took incredible efforts simply to be mediocre. I had no idea; it was all new to me. Still, I considered this question for a while before my training started.

Eventually, I answered the question. I wanted to see how well I could possibly do, which meant putting in my best possible effort no matter what. I had no idea how good I could be, so I thought: "...let’s see how good I could be if I tried has hard as I could."

This wasn't really a specific goal like "graduating number one", or "not failing any tests", or getting "out-standings" on flight evals. But it was still a commitment, a daily commitment, to be solely focused on training, to do my best no matter what.

With that commitment, answers to living arrangements came into focus. Instead of renting near my classmates with their added distractions, I picked an apartment off the beaten path where it was nice and quiet. Instead of spending a lot of time and money trying to make this little place a mini palace, I considered it my monastery. It was cheaply furnished to keep costs down. I didn't buy a TV or get cable. Why have it since my TV time would be spent studying? I also got the most basic kitchen utensils and bathroom supplies. Except for my little bed and a desk to study at, I didn't buy anything. No frills was the best way to describe my new home.

When training started, that was all I did: I trained. I lived, ate, slept, and dreamed navigator training. I read, and read, and read some more. I answered all of the practice questions they gave me. I made my own practice questions to practice even more. I made my own little tests and practiced taking them under time limits, trying to simulate testing conditions. I made my own training exercises, trying to emulate the exercises I would undertake during real flight evals. 

While practicing these exercises, I pretended I had bad weather making me re-plan and compensate in-flight. I imagined scenarios in which pilots wouldn't follow direction, flying incorrect headings, forcing me to find their errors, then take steps to correct the mistakes. My goal was to be as prepared as I could be by imagining and then practicing every possible scenario I could think of. I even developed a very disciplined process for taking tests, answering the questions, transferring the questions to the answer sheets, and all the while checking and triple checking I didn't inadvertently answer "A" instead of meaning "C."

This type of self-study was substantially more thorough than what I was tasked to do with assigned homework. Since I didn't have anything else to do--i.e. no distractions, no TV--I was consistent with this self-study throughout my navigator course. It paid off.

After seven months of training, I missed four total questions on academic tests, tying me for best academically in my class. Even after marking thousands of different multiple choice answers, none of the four were missed due to mis-marking an answer.

I did very well during my flight evals. All that self-study prepared me for those times when my flights didn't go as planned. As all experienced aviators know, no flight goes precisely as planned. Inevitably some re-planning is required. Being prepared becomes so important. What I didn't know then is a measure of an aviator's abilities can be shown by how elegantly they deal with these bumps. All that self-study allowed me to smoothly adjust to changes with minimal panic, which is exactly how I want things to roll nowadays, 30 years and thousands of flight hours later. As a result of all this, I was the best flier in my class.

Because of these scores, I graduated at the top of my class - probably my most important professional achievement. With a #1 graduate on my resume, doors opened that allowed me to get to my pilot wings, attend USAF Test Pilot School, and eventually the job I currently have, conducting experimental flight tests.

Looking backwards along the 30 year road that brings me to today, it's easy to see what’s at the beginning of that road, asking that question, "How good do you want it?" Everything flowed from my answer, my direction, my choices, my commitment. Without that question, I'm not sure what would've happened. All bets would’ve been off, as they say."

Cheers Tom

13 comments:

  1. I will soon be attending training for the Air Force Reserve. There are some great points made that I will take with me. In the meantime, I'll begin to apply similar principles to my regular work day.

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    1. Yes... these are great tools to carry with you. Sometimes it's hard with all the distractions, but you know there will be many days to play after the work is done. Thank you so much for your comment! Best of luck in your training!

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    1. It was great! Thank you for your comment. We love them. Especially the great reads!

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  3. Really great story and a really great read for someone like me who is an aspiring aviator.

    I really liked how you mentioned that you gave up a whole lot including TV's etc to save money and insure you would study, shows tremendous dedication. It reminds me of a video on youtube I really like: "How Bad Do You Want it?" http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=WTFnmsCnr6g#!

    Thanks for sharing your story,
    Swayne Martin @MartinsAviation http://martinsaviation.blogspot.com/

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    1. Thank you for sharing this link! He is so right... you have got to want it so bad, you'll give up anything. But as I learned in my years of giving up sleep... it took it's toll on my health.... don't give up sleep. You need your health. But the TV, and playtime... yes. Okay, every once in awhile you can skimp on the sleep... but make sure you get it. This is the mother speaking. :)

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  4. Wow, what an inspiration! Thanks for sharing your story.

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    1. Dedication and discipline. Everything we want from our kids. :) Thanks for your comment Julie!

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  5. Tom, Thank you for this fantastic lesson. This reminded me when I was hired with NWA. All the crews stayed at the crew hotel, where everyone stayed...even those who were coming back for recurrent. It was a study, drink beer, and visit with each other place. I stayed at the holiday Inn, with a gym, and no other pilots. Why? I wanted to focus on my studies without distraction. I ended up paying more...but I figured, this was my career. And I needed to do the best I can. It paid off ten-fold. I aced my indoc test, and then those on the 747... I ended up getting invited to become an instructor while still on probation.

    So... this is an excellent question and attitude. Do the best you can. Thanks so much!!

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    1. Karlene,

      You and I are on the same sheet of music here. So many times, people shoot themselves in the foot by not taking that extra mile or get distracted by diversions. The camaraderie/community piece of aviation is important--at least it was in my environments. But, even that can take a backseat to simply being the best you can be in your aircraft. Sacrifices have to be made sometimes, dependent on the situation.

      Cheers

      Tom

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  6. Sulu - Fifteen years ago when I was trying to get into the USAF, you gave a me preview to this article in three words: "Success begets success." Truer words were never spoken.

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    1. Bryan, how cool is that! Thank you for the comment! I love that statement... no truer words. Where are you now?

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    2. This is sooooo awesome! I can not express how awesome it is to have Bryan Duke here. Back when I flew that red white and blue NASA F-15--see my previous post--in the late 90's, Bryan Duke was one of that program's project engineers. As a youngster back then fresh from college he still had an impressive aviation resume. If I'm not mistaken, Bryan owned a camouflaged Long EZ at the time. I had the incredible fortune to write a letter of recommendation for him to get into the US Air Force. Since, he became an accomplished fighter pilot. Eventually he attended Test Pilot School. He's flown lots of different aircraft. Not only that, he's a great dad.

      Thanks for posting.

      Cheers

      Sulu

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