What being a pilot taught me

I have the flying bug. It was my dream and I managed to make it come true. As a pilot I learned many lessons I can apply to business and life in general, here are a few of them.

Humility and being present.

Each time I’m going to fly it does not matter if it’s a jet or a paraglider. You have to have a clear mind and put your ego aside. Things can go wrong at any moment. You can forget something. You have to be focused and put aside anything else worrying you. If I carry passengers I don’t drink much if at all the night before and get some sleep. I have to clear my mind and make sure I think about everything. I visualize the flight and what I need to do. If I have something important that worries me in my mind I have to learn to “box it for later” and only think about the flight, or take a co-pilot with me.

Think “ahead of the nose” of the aircraft

You cannot fly at 500 miles per hour and not think about the step ahead or even two steps ahead of time. When you start the engines you already thought about where you will taxi the aircraft. When you take-off you know your flight plan and already have the approach in mind. If you show up into an instrument approach at high speed and have not prepared your instrument approach you will experience un-necessary stress and likely make a mistake. Jets do not slow down easily so if you do not prepare your final approach early you simply will not land because you won’t be able to extend your flaps and landing gear. It’s okay you can do a 360 and slow down but that’s not pretty…

I learned to think ahead, always. Being in the present isn’t enough, you have to always plan for a few steps ahead, especially plan for things not going as planned. This is precious learning for business too.

Plan for the worst, nothing will surprise you

A few days ago I shot an instruments approach with low ceiling, low visibility and a light snow storm in a mountain airport. I am perfectly trained to fly in the clouds and bad weather and the plane has incredible deicing and great instruments so weather isn’t really a problem. I was entirely prepared to go around and execute the published missed approach. I planned for it and reviewed in my head a few times what I had to do: at my instruments minimum if I don’t see the runway I go “pitch up, maximum take off power, flaps to approach, positive rate of climb gear up, flaps up, instruments set to FMS navigation missed approach, yaw damper, autopilot on, announce going missed on radio”. That’s a lot to remember but if you’re well trained, fly enough and repeat it a few times as you approach, it’s going to be a piece of cake. I ended up landing at the planned airport as I saw the runway way before reaching my minimums, but I was ready for the alternate airport.

Learn to not even trust yourself, trust data and instruments

When you fly in clouds you barely see the nose of your own aircraft so all you have is your instruments. Your feelings are most of the time wrong. You feel like you’re going up and you’re actually sinking, or vice versa. You might feel like the plane is turning right while it’s actually turning left. You have to learn to trust the instruments and the autopilot more than yourself. Forget what you feel and train your brain to only read data and react accordingly. Watch your speed constantly. Your vertical speed says you’re climbing? You are climbing, even if you feel like you are sinking. You would be surprised to experience how much your senses are wrong while you fly. I learned to not pay attention to anything I feel when I fly instruments.

Focus on what matters most

When you fly instruments there are two things that matter most: attitude (are you flying up, down, left, right, level) and speed (below stall speed you, ahem, fall). This is excellent training for the brain, you constantly come back to these two. Changing something on the GPS? Come back often to attitude and speed indicators. You can never leave them out of sight for more than a few seconds. Another great training in business and life in general. What matters most and coming constantly back to it.

Do nothing when there is an emergency

Turbine engines are extremely reliable, they don’t really fail. Regardless, I got trained in the plane and in a simulator in case I lose an engine. The most critical phases are during take off and initial climb as you are close to the ground. In most powerful planes if you have an engine failure just after you took off you get trained to just do nothing. This is really counter intuitive. You see a red light for emergency or hear the engine stop and yet what you want is to do nothing at all.

Most accidents happen in those moments because the pilot panics and does something wrong before reaching some altitude. For example the pilot will try to secure the failed engine by cutting the fuel going into it. That’s all great except if you pull on the wrong lever and shut down the only good engine left. Or you forget to “fly the plane”, focus on the engine and crash into the hill in front of you.

That was one of the toughest learnings for me. Stay calm. Do nothing. “Oh, I have an engine fire”. Do nothing at all until you reached a thousand feet or two. Then think ahead. What are you going to do? Is this the right engine to touch? Are you still flying the plane. Another great thing to learn. The shit hits the fan and you do absolutely nothing until it’s safe and your brain can quietly analyze what’s happening. Never over react and keep calm. I practice this in a simulator every year.

Follow check-lists and never get over confident

It is very easy to get distracted even when there is no emergency. A passenger is talking to you. The weather is beautiful and you just look around at the great sunset. Remember that huge plane that crashed recently on a beautiful day into San Francisco airport? They were probably over confident and looking outside the window admiring the bay scenery and forgot to maintain their minimum approach speed. They crashed into the runway. In the past an instructor landed without the gear down just in front of me.

It is so easy to forget things in your business, too. There is a entire great book on this one that I highly recommend, the check-list manifesto. A good habit is even to repeat the check-lists aloud, even if the passenger next to you does not understand it or if you fly alone. Your brain remembers much more if you say it aloud instead of reading it in your head.

Shut down the engine and it’s still not over.

We all have this tendency to go too fast. When something important is over we move on to the next one. You landed the plane, you reached your parking position and shut down the engine. It’s still easy to make a mistake at this point and we use check-lists even for shut-down and securing the plane. Another great learning for business. When you are done with a significant project, did you think about everything?

I’m addicted to flying and I am extremely fortunate that I managed to make my dream come true. I have been flying solo for 15 years single engine planes, twin engines, twin turboprops and a citation jet CJ3. Got my commercial, instrument, multi engine and single pilot jet ratings and about 2,000 hours of flying experience, mostly flying solo. I recently started paragliding, too. From 420 knots cruise speed to less than 20 but I’m having so much fun (more fun I would say) flying with no engine, your face in the air, and at zero cost.

If you liked reading this you might also like my weekly newsletter on how I start my new business.

Entrepreneur, pilot, kite-surfer and paraglider. Subscribe to my new newsletter http://loiclemeur.substack.com

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store