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

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, 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. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Can I Be a Pilot?

"Let me look upon my fear as something that
I need to confront - not something that I must
shy away from."

Last week I received an email from a young man who is interested in flying but felt nervous during his introductory flight. While I attempt to not be repetitive, some messages need to be repeated. Thus we see Eleesha's inspirational quote one more time. A perfect intro to Justin's question.

Justin said, 

"I have always been fascinated with flying. Ever since I was a little kid, I have wanted to be a pilot. I went on my first discovery flight recently and I had a good time. I was pretty nervous at times. Especially during some of the turns. 
With this being said, is that normal? I don't want to start training in a career where I'm just going to be scared shitless every day! lol. I plan on taking a few more flights just to see how I do. I am kind of nervous about stall training. Is it normal to be nervous, or do good pilots look forward to challenging events such as those? Any help would be appreciated."

Justin you are not alone in the nerves department. I'm sure every pilot has felt this emotion. Especially in the beginning. I know I have. It's the unknown that produces those feelings. Everyone pushing their comfort zone will feel nervous until we feel comfortable at what we are doing. Those nerves will diminish as you gain experience and confidence.
Nerves can be a good thing. They can be a warning sign that you need to keep your eyes open and attention alert. There is an excellent post, Acknowledging Fear, that would be a good read. 
Part of what keeps a pilot sharp is not falling into a complacency mode. Nerves prickling your skin will we keep you on our toes, awareness alert, and focus sharp. Use those nerves wisely, but do not allow them to control you.
The lessons I have learned along the way is to honor those fears, and then do what it takes to not let them control you. Another student pilot had a fear of the next phase of flight... the solo. I recommend you also read the Fear of Flying.

If being a pilot is something you want to do, acknowledge those fears, take your lessons and learn how to fly. I suspect you will watch them diminish before your eyes. 
Read the post Secrets To Success and focus on numbers six and seven... they are all about fear. In addition, read Andrew Hartley's Friday Flyer and the quote by his father... amazing advice.
For everyone else....

Have you ever felt fear while flying?
Or a fear doing anything...
How did you get over it?

Enjoy the Journey!
XO Karlene


  1. Hey Justin! I'm a 16 year old student pilot from Virginia and know completely what you're talking about.

    Flying by nature is often nerve wracking, I've been in some pretty scary situations such as the door to my plane nearly flying open right as I took off-that would've been bad!

    By nature, flying is somewhat scary and nerve-wracking, which is why I love it, it's a challenge! Since I became a pilot, things that used to scare me, like roller coasters, or steep turns, have gone away, because I really know the physics behind how things work... and how safe flying truly is.

    These two videos are pretty good, will surely inspire you to fly!:

    Also, check out my site if you get the chance, lots of advice from other pilots on there:

    Great post Karlene, and Justin, I know you'll love it!
    -Swayne Martin

    1. Swayne, Thank you very much for the great comment and sharing your experience and links with Justin. I agree... once he understands more of what he's doing I suspect the fear will diminish.

  2. Good advice Karlene. It's a good idea to honor your fears. Sometimes they are the body's "Master Caution" light.

    1. I love this. And sometimes it's a Master Warning too! Thank you for your comment.

  3. Nice to stumble across this post right now. I just spent the last few weeks dealing with flying fear and getting past it - and I'm far past my first solo. I'm working on my commercial rating! I wrote about it in my blog.

    What I'd like to assure the new pilots and student pilots out there... what you fear now will not be the same thing as you fear later. You will - if you continue - lose your fear of turns as they become familiar to you. You will lose your fear of stalls as you become familiar with them, learn to recover from them and avoid going into a stall in the first place. It doesn't mean you will LIKE every maneuver you do in your primary training, but eventually they won't scare you quite as much as they do now. Eventually you'll find yourself flying along and laughing as you turn or bounce through turbulence that used to scare you.

    1. Anissa, thank you for your wonderful comment. And just checked out your blog too. Excellent advice! Yes...with confidence comes more comfort. Thank you for sharing your blog with us too.

  4. Justin,

    I am nervous every time I get near an airplane. That is what drives me and keeps me mentally engaged. I have had office jobs that didn't challenge me, they didn't excite me and they gave no sense of satisfaction.

    I am not encouraging you or anyone else to make a career in aviation. It is tough to build flight time, tougher to get a job, tougher to support a family on the salary of most jobs. At some point, you might be fortunate enough to get a job that actually pays enough to get you off welfare.

    I always try to encourage young folks to get a real job, that actually pays money starting out and can provide a challenge. But some of us are like cavemen/cave women. We need to go out into the land that time forgot, find dinner, kill it, fight off the saber tooth tiger that wants to steal our dinner, kill the tiger, and drag dinner and the tiger home and cook it on a fire.

    Do you think the caveman was nervous when they went out on a hunt? I do. Anytime you strap a 500,000 pound airplane to your back and you take off to fly to a far away land carrying people or boxes. You are climbing into a modern day time machine. During that flight, you know you will cross several different major weather patterns and hopefully you will find fair skies when you arrive at your destination. Sometimes, you have been in the airplane for hours only to be forced to fly a highly technical, very precise and nerve racking landing to a runway that remains hidden in the fog until 50 feet above the ground. So foggy that you taxi at a rate two times slower than a normal walking pace. Yes it can get your heart rate up, and in this example everything worked perfectly. Don't even think about what it feels like when you have to shut down one of your two engines.

    Good day or bad day, you know without a shadow of a doubt that when you are sitting on brick one, cleared for take-off and you push the throttles up. The instant your wheels leave the ground you are only postponing the first law of gravity. What goes up, must come down.

    From that instant on, your only goal is to make sure that you are in control of that 500,000 pound jet when it comes down. Am I nervous before a flight? Yes, and those nerves are what keeps me going back to work. And to be honest, I do like the paycheck too.

    Hope that makes sense.

    1. Rob, Thank you for the comment. There are no guarantees in life so we must do what we love and have a passion for. Fear keeps you on your toes, as long as you always remember who is in control.

  5. Justin, I'm not a pilot yet, but I know I will feel nervous at first because everything will be alien for me. I mean, to feel the physics. But indeed you must listen to Karlene's advice.I would take it as a challenge and that's why it's going to be so much fun!

    Karlene, one funny fact about me... I don't know if I have told you before. I used to be scared of thunderstorms until I was 14! Seriously! I was phobic! Every time the thunder came, I used to shake and feel anxious. So to overcome this fear, I had to decide to stay alone at home once during a thunderstorm. Listen to it and try to understand my fear. After that, thunderstorms became my favorite nature phenomenon!

    Nice post. Essential for beginners.


    1. Alex, Thank you for your comment and sharing how you got over your TS fear. Wow! Now... I need help over my claustropbobia of the new bunks. Help!!!
      Yes... we all have fears of something. I'm thinking thunderstorms and lightening is a good thing to respect... the wrath of mother nature with electricity.
      Thanks for the great comment!

  6. With your permission, Karlene, I´m using your blog to talk to Justin:

    Dang, I thought the first comment would be mine, and I could tell you all of what they said above. It won´t be as ludicrously long a text as I expected then, but prepare your reading glasses anyway, for there we go!

    For some time, I had a plane that used to give rides and take sightseeing flights, always assuming none of them had ever been in the air, hence barely turning and avoiding brisk or funny maneuvers altogether. Saw a few reactions then, and the weird fact was finding someone that wasn´t somehow nervous about the whole thing. Between nervous to bloody scared. That's the normal state of mind ;-)

    Then, yeah, what they said above. Not only is it normal, it can become a good thing. Just one note on that: it will NOT be the same kind of nerve and fear you felt that time, but another feeling that can be very rewarding. It will turn into aaa... some kind of very controllable anxiety as you approach the plane.

    In the same sense of what Rob Akers said above, overcoming that anxiety will put a HUGE smile in your face. Specially in your student days, when that anxiety is stronger, adorned with some brush-strokes of bitter fear as your progress through parts of training that could be more stressful (different for every one of us), a smile that will last for the whole week. In the same spirit of his text, all that is a basic part of being human, and the cool one in the cave, by the way: feeling fear like everyone else, and still doing it.

    Myself. I was scared to death of stalls, or anything less than the comfortable 1G you feel seating in your chair. Would start freaking out one week before any of those classes, wishing for the rain to come and having to cancel it. But for some reason, probably because we both share that passion for airplanes that comes from childhood, because we both knew in kinder garden that pilots is what we were, I always found myself in the car, driving to the airport for that class. The car and the kinder garden myself were taking me there because they knew better, while I didn´t want to go.

    Describing it as scary is an understatement, but doing it and progressing through the whole thing, class after class, despite that fear... I don´t think the reward at the other end can be described with one single word. Overwhelming joy, proud satisfaction, encouragement imprinted forever in the hypothalamus...

    Slowly, I progressed through different levels of fear, took some aerobatic classes, went to solo in that too, dropped some skydivers, and have been spraying crops for some time.

    So, fear: take care or you will become a junkie of it as myself! ;-P

    Feeling fear in your first flights, certain maneuvers or situations, is just being human. If nobody told you that before, I can see how that normal sensation was adorned by your own brain. Because you always wanted to fly, but felt the actual flying was a tad too real an experience, you added an ever increasing anxiety to it, plus some doubts and feelings of letting your kinder garden self down, just to flourish the whole thing. Maybe?

    That particular bad sensation you felt will eventually go away; and probably sooner than later. One gets used to maneuvers rather quick. Just go for those other flights and see by yourself! In fact, if it was a school or if you have one nearby, take those flights as introductory classes. The briefings about the whats, whys and hows, plus having your own hands in the controls, could help.

    Then, be ready for chapter number two: "Of panel fog and how I didn´t know what the heck was going on in that cockpit", which is also normal =P

    Happy landings!

    1. Jose, Thank you so much for taking your time to write such an incredible comment. I know Justin will appreciate it. Confidence that the nerves will diminish is exactly what he needs. Thank you!!

  7. To this day i am not completely comfortable with stalls.
    Its just something i must do to stay current.
    I dont want to be comfortable and conplacent,
    It keeps me on my toes.
    Nigel Z.

  8. I realize I am late to the party, but such is life. I was just catching up on some of my aviation reading and found this.

    When it comes to flying there will always be something that scares you or makes you nervous. Not necessarily every day, but it will still happen. Just yesterday we were flying an approach that had all of us a little nervous at some point. The pilot is about to retire from the Air Force after 25 years, and the loadmaster has over 5,000 hours in the C-130, and even they were scared as we shot the approach. But even with that, each of us performed our tasks as we had been trained and we safely landed, no problem.

    As long as you can let the fear and nervousness drive you to get better, you will be fine, and find yourself enjoying it, and even laughing about it later, like we did over dinner. Reality is that for some people that fear does not go away, and that is okay, but never let the fear of something new scare you away from following your dream.

    1. Dave, there are times when being late to the party is good! This is one of them. Thank you so much for your comment. We should never allow our fear to scare away our dreams! Welcome aboard!

    2. Fear is good only if it helps you in being more attentive and concentrated. If your fear is not letting you do anything then no one can help you. Dave has presented a very good example of conquering the fear. Cheers Dave.

    3. Fred, so true! You should Read Flight To Success Be the Captain of your Life. My first chapter is about dealing with Fear!!

    4. I will read it for sure .. Thanks Karlene


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